But that’s all window dressing. Twitter and Facebook’s experiments with warning labels and links to authoritative sources proved unable to stop the spread of misinformation during the 2020 election and haven’t been effective in culling similarly dangerous ideas in the pandemic.
In a Sunday blog post that did not include any mention of Mr. Rogan or his podcast, Spotify’s chief executive, Daniel Ek, appears to take a strong stance against violations of the service’s rules. Still, he resisted calls to take more muscular action. “There are plenty of individuals and views on Spotify that I disagree with strongly,” Mr. Ek wrote. “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.”
Whatever Spotify executives’ true feelings about Mr. Rogan or the pandemic, Mr. Ek is really playing defense for his cash cow — and if he gives in on this issue and he’ll have to give in on the next one and the next one after that. Given an opening, there’s no shortage of customers and artists who’d be thrilled to pressure the company to remove content from Barack and Michelle Obama’s production company, which has its own exclusive deal with Spotify. Losing Joni Mitchell is a shame, but losing Mr. Rogan or Mr. Obama would be terrible for business, whatever nonsense either may spew.
Investors have rewarded the strategy. Shares of Spotify are up more than 15 percent since Mr. Young’s music started being taken off the service last week, even amid what was the worst start to the year in over a decade for the broader market.
Mr. Ek’s blog post laid out the company’s rules of the road, but Spotify knew exactly who Mr. Rogan was when it signed its exclusive deal with him nearly two years ago. Before reaching the deal, Mr. Rogan had belittled transgender people, given airtime to Alex Jones and once likened a movie theater in a predominantly Black neighborhood as akin to “Planet of the Apes.”
Spotify knew what it was getting with Mr. Rogan. If its “longstanding platform rules” truly mattered or were being applied consistently, you’d expect Mr. Rogan to have already been dealt with.
Where the rubber meets the road for Spotify is a market backlash, a principled stance from bigger names like Taylor Swift, as some have suggested, or a slew of artists, not the trickle we’ve seen so far. So, for now, Mr. Rogan is untouchable and our health is at risk.