Still, the backlash intensifies. Civil rights groups organize a boycott. Advertisers pull their campaigns. A hashtag trends. The platform’s employees threaten to walk out. Days later, the chief executive is forced to choose between barring a popular creator — and face the fury of his fans — or being seen as a hypocrite and an enabler of dangerous behavior.
If this scenario sounds familiar, it’s because a version of it has occurred on every major internet media platform over the last half decade. Facebook and Alex Jones, Twitter and Donald Trump, YouTube and PewDiePie, Netflix and Dave Chappelle: Every major platform has found itself trapped, at some point, between this particular rock and a hard place.
Now, it’s Spotify’s turn. The audio giant has faced calls for weeks to take action against Joe Rogan, the mega-popular podcast host, after Mr. Rogan was accused of promoting Covid-19 misinformation on his show, including hosting a guest who had been barred by Twitter for spreading false information about Covid-19 vaccines. This month, a group of hundreds of medical experts urged Spotify to crack down on Covid-19 misinformation, saying Mr. Rogan had a “concerning history” of promoting falsehoods about the virus.
So far, the backlash cycle is hitting most of the usual notes. Critics have compared snippets of Mr. Rogan’s interviews with Spotify’s stated rules, which prohibit material “that promotes dangerous false or dangerous deceptive content about Covid-19.” Two folk-rock legends, Neil Young and Joni Mitchell, led the boycott, pulling their catalogs from Spotify last week in protest of the platform’s decision to support Mr. Rogan. Brené Brown, another popular host, soon followed, saying she would not release new episodes of her Spotify-exclusive podcast “until further notice.”
Daniel Ek, Spotify’s chief executive, published the requisite blog post on Sunday, defending the company’s commitment to free expression and saying that “it is important to me that we don’t take on the position of being content censor.” And while Spotify declined to take action against Mr. Rogan, it committed to putting advisory warnings on podcast episodes about Covid-19, and directing listeners to a hub filled with authoritative health information.