Spotify Controversy: Upholding the Freedom of Speech or Enabling Misinformation?

by John Downey '23 on February 10, 2022
A&E Co-Editor

Arts & Entertainment

Spotify Controversy: Upholding the Freedom of Speech or Enabling Misinformation?

Joni Mitchell & Neil Young Pull Their Catalogues from the Streaming Service in Protest

Grace Whitman ’22

Joni Mitchell is skating down the river she’s always wished for and away from Spotify. 

Following Neil Young’s lead, the artist has officially removed her full discography from the streaming platform. Mitchell and Young are protesting what they feel is Spotify’s active promotion of misinformation about vaccines and the COVID-19 pandemic, as the streaming service is giving a platform to content creators such as Joe Rogan. In 2020, Spotify bought the rights to Rogan’s podcast The Joe Rogan Experience for $100 million. The show has featured several controversial guests such as Dr. Robert Malone and Dr. Peter McCullough, the latter of whom has claimed that the pandemic was deliberately planned and that the vaccines created to combat it are killing thousands of people. In response, 270 physicians and scientists wrote an open letter to Spotify demanding that the company do more to address misinformation about vaccines and the pandemic on its platform.

Spotify has defended their choice to keep The Joe Rogan Experience on their platform. They believe it is their duty to uphold free speech and allow different viewpoints to be expressed. Spotify’s CEO Daniel Ek said, “With that comes great responsibility in balancing both safety for listeners and freedom for creators. We have detailed content policies in place, and we’ve removed over 20,000 podcast episodes related to COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic. We regret [artists’] decision to remove [their] music from Spotify but hope to welcome [them] back soon.” 

Although Spotify has chosen to not censor The Joe Rogan Experience, protests from artists such as Young and Mitchell have led them to add disclaimers to podcast episodes that discuss COVID-19. Press Secretary Jen Psaki praised this move, but also demanded that the streaming giant do even more to limit the platform that they give to misinformation spreaders.

Many Spotify users are following Young and Mitchell’s lead and switching to other streaming platforms in protest. Martha DePoy ’22 is one of these protestors. When asked why she chose to cancel her Spotify subscription, she stated, “I’m switching to Apple Music because while I fully support free speech, I don’t agree with or support the platform Spotify has given to content creators who spread lies for money. If I’m going to pay for a streaming service, I want the music from all my favorite artists including Neil Young and Joni Mitchell to be available to me.” With that being said, Rogan’s podcast garners millions of daily listeners, many more than Neil and Mitchell’s works, which presents an enormous financial opportunity for Spotify. This motive for Spotify’s course of action has left artists and music consumers alike wondering what the streaming giant’s mission is: are financial gains more important to the company than the health and safety of listeners?