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Spotify adds COVID health warnings after siding with Joe Rogan in Neil Young misinformation dispute

A trading post sports the Spotify logo on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.
A trading post sports the Spotify logo on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. Copyright AP Photo/Richard Drew, File
Copyright AP Photo/Richard Drew, File
By Euronews
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Spotify CEO Daniel Ek said he didn't want the company to be a "content censor" after controversy over alleged COVID misinformation in its biggest podcast.

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Spotify will add content warnings to podcasts that discuss COVID-19 after criticism and boycotts over the spread of misinformation on the streaming service.

On Sunday, chief executive Daniel Ek said Spotify had not "been transparent" about the rules governing content on the platform, and announced that its "long-standing" platform rules and COVID-19 content policy would be made public.

Ek's announcement comes after the musician Neil Young pulled his music from Spotify last week. Young accused the company of publishing misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines via 'The Joe Rogan Experience' podcast.

"They can have Rogan or Young. Not both," Young said. They chose podcaster Joe Rogan.

On Monday, Rogan responded to the controversy. In a 10-minute video posted on Instagram, the former mixed martial arts fighting commentator defended his podcast against accusations of spreading misinformation.

"I'm not trying to promote misinformation, I'm not trying to be controversial," Rogan said. "I've never tried to do anything with this podcast other than to just talk to people".

'Just asking questions'

The Joe Rogan Experience podcast, which Spotify reportedly paid $100 million (€89.6 million) for the exclusive rights to in 2020, has frequently been a source of controversy throughout the pandemic.

Spotify grants Neil Young's request to remove music in COVID conspiracy theory row

On New Year's Eve, Rogan's podcast featured an interview with Robert Malone, an infectious disease specialist who has been banned from Twitter for spreading misinformation and has become a hero in the anti-vaxx community.

Rogan defended the interview, along with a previous controversial episode, calling his guests including Malone "highly credentialed, very intelligent, very accomplished people".

Rogan has also suggested that the antiparasitic drug Ivermectin is an effective COVID-19 treatment, contrary to medical advice.

"This doctor was saying Ivermectin is 99 per cent effective in treating COVID, but you don’t hear about it because you can’t fund vaccines when it’s an effective treatment," he said during an April 2021 episode of the podcast.

"I don’t know if this guy is right or wrong. I’m just asking questions," Rogan added.

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Dangerous content

Spotify's newly-published policy reveals the lines podcasters must cross to risk being removed from the platform.

Key to the COVID-19 debate is a section governing "content that promotes dangerous false or dangerous deceptive medical information that may cause offline harm or poses a direct threat to public health".

According to the document published on Sunday, Spotify prohibits content containing claims that "AIDS, COVID-19, cancer or other serious life threatening diseases are a hoax," content that encourages "the consumption of bleach products to cure various illnesses and diseases" and that suggests vaccines are "designed to cause death".

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It also bans content makers from encouraging people to deliberately catch COVID-19.

According to another version of Spotify's content policy seen by The Verge, a document shared inside the company included "suggesting that wearing a mask will cause the wearer imminent, life-threatening physical harm," as an example of banned content, although this is now missing from the version made public on Sunday.

'Content censor'

In a blog announcing the update, Ek said he did not want Spotify to "take on the position of being content censor".

Rich Fury/Invision via AP Photo
Neil Young's decision to remove his music from Spotify prompted other artists to follow suitRich Fury/Invision via AP Photo

Ek's Sunday announcement followed moves by singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell and Bruce Springsteen guitarist Nils Lofgren to also pull their music from the platform.

“We encourage all musicians, artists and music lovers everywhere to stand with us and cut ties with Spotify," wrote Lofgren in a statement.

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In January, Spotify was the subject of an open letter from hundreds of scientists, professors and public health experts, who called on the company to publish its misinformation policies in the wake of Rogan's December 31 interview with Malone.

"Mass-misinformation events of this scale have extraordinarily dangerous ramifications. As scientists, we face backlash and resistance as the public grows to distrust our research and expertise," the letter read.

"This is not only a scientific or medical concern; it is a sociological issue of devastating proportions and Spotify is responsible for allowing this activity to thrive on its platform," it added.

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