Spotify has bowed in the face of pressure from critics about supporting the spread of COVID and vaccine misinformation with a plan to add warning labels on its global platform to content that skirts the line between “what is acceptable and what is not,” as CEO Daniel Ek stated Sunday.
Ek’s lengthy statement outlining Spotify’s official content policies comes in response to a gathering storm of criticism and calls for boycotts of the streaming service that has seen artists like Neil Young and Joni Mitchell demand their music be removed from the platform, accusing the company of assisting in spreading misinformation about COVID-19 and vaccinations.
In his statement, Ek vowed that Spotify would affix warnings on podcast episodes that include conversations about COVID-19. Notably, Ek did not specify any content creators by name in the statement.
“Based on the feedback over the last several weeks, it’s become clear to me that we have an obligation to do more to provide balance and access to widely-accepted information from the medical and scientific communities guiding us through this unprecedented time. These issues are incredibly complex. We’ve heard you – especially those from the medical and scientific communities,” Ek wrote in the statement posted on Spotify’s website.
Earlier in the year, a number of public health officials urged Spotify to take action against Rogan, accusing the massively popular “The Joe Rogan Experience” podcast of possessing a “concerning history of broadcasting misinformation, particularly regarding the COVID-19 pandemic.” Rogan’s program is currently the most-listened to podcast on the audio streaming service. Rogan signed a $100 million deal in May 2020, giving Spotify exclusive distribution rights (though not ownership of) his podcast.
Last Wednesday, Young released a statement demanding his music be removed from the streaming service, leveling accusations against Spotify (“They can have Rogan or Young. Not both,” Young wrote in an open letter posted on his website). Spotify responded by removing Young’s music from the platform later. Joni Mitchell followed Young’s lead on Friday by demanding her music be removed from the platform, saying “I stand in solidarity with Neil Young and the global scientific and medical communities on this issue.”
“Spotify has recently become a very damaging force via its public misinformation and lies about COVID,” Young wrote. “I first learned of this problem by reading that 200-plus doctors had joined forces, taking on the dangerous life-threatening COVID falsehoods found in Spotify programming.”
There has been a mounting wave of speculation that Young and Mitchell’s exit from Spotify may potentially spawn a larger exodus from the platform by musicians and content creators.
See Ek’s full statement below.
“A decade ago, we created Spotify to enable the work of creators around the world to be heard and enjoyed by listeners around the world. To our very core, we believe that listening is everything. Pick almost any issue and you will find people and opinions on either side of it. Personally, there are plenty of individuals and views on Spotify that I disagree with strongly. We know we have a critical role to play in supporting creator expression while balancing it with the safety of our users. In that role, it is important to me that we don’t take on the position of being content censor while also making sure that there are rules in place and consequences for those who violate them.
“You’ve had a lot of questions over the last few days about our platform policies and the lines we have drawn between what is acceptable and what is not. We have had rules in place for many years but admittedly, we haven’t been transparent around the policies that guide our content more broadly. This, in turn, led to questions around their application to serious issues including COVID-19.
“Based on the feedback over the last several weeks, it’s become clear to me that we have an obligation to do more to provide balance and access to widely-accepted information from the medical and scientific communities guiding us through this unprecedented time. These issues are incredibly complex. We’ve heard you – especially those from the medical and scientific communities – and are taking the following steps:
“Today we are publishing our long-standing Platform Rules. These policies were developed by our internal team in concert with a number of outside experts and are updated regularly to reflect the changing safety landscape. These are rules of the road to guide all of our creators—from those we work with exclusively to those whose work is shared across multiple platforms. You can now find them on our newsroom, and they’ll live permanently on the main Spotify website. They are being localized into various languages to help our users understand how Spotify assesses all content on our platform.
“We are working to add a content advisory to any podcast episode that includes a discussion about COVID-19. This advisory will direct listeners to our dedicated COVID-19 Hub, a resource that provides easy access to data-driven facts, up-to-date information as shared by scientists, physicians, academics and public health authorities around the world, as well as links to trusted sources. This new effort to combat misinformation will roll out to countries around the world in the coming days. To our knowledge, this content advisory is the first of its kind by a major podcast platform.
“We will also begin testing ways to highlight our Platform Rules in our creator and publisher tools to raise awareness around what’s acceptable and help creators understand their accountability for the content they post on our platform. This is in addition to the terms that creators and publishers agree to governing their use of our services.
“I want you to know that from the very first days of the pandemic, Spotify has been biased toward action. We launched a variety of educational resources and campaigns to raise awareness and we developed and promoted a global COVID-19 Information Hub. We donated ad inventory to various organizations for vaccine awareness, funds to the World Health Organization and COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX) to increase vaccine equity and supported the Go Give One fundraising campaign. And we established a music relief project to support the creative community. While this is not a complete list, I hope it gives you a sense of how seriously we’ve approached the pandemic as a company.
“I trust our policies, the research and expertise that inform their development, and our aspiration to apply them in a way that allows for broad debate and discussion, within the lines. We take this seriously and will continue to partner with experts and invest heavily in our platform functionality and product capabilities for the benefit of creators and listeners alike. That doesn’t mean that we always get it right, but we are committed to learning, growing and evolving.”