Spotify publicly posted its platform policies for the first time on Sunday following artists’ outrage over COVID-related episodes of Joe Rogan’s podcast.
The policies, which previously weren’t known to the public, offer podcasters and musicians wide latitude over what they can stream on Spotify. They’re similar to the approaches used by other platforms. Spotify does not allow hatred and incitement of violence, deception, graphic depictions of violence, sexually explicit material, and illegal content. The streaming service also says it forbids “content that promotes dangerous false or dangerous deceptive medical information that may cause offline harm or poses a direct threat to public health.”
“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,” CEO Daniel Ek said in a blog post.
But Spotify’s rules also don’t lay out clear and consistent consequences if a podcaster or artist violates its policies. “What happens to rule breakers?” the policy says. “We take these decisions seriously and keep context in mind when making them. Breaking the rules may result in the violative content being removed from Spotify. Repeated or egregious violations may result in accounts being suspended and/or terminated.” In other words, Spotify may choose to ignore its own policies at its discretion.
The moves were prompted after artists, including Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, and Nils Lofgren, asked Spotify to remove their music after they objected to COVID-related misinformation aired on Rogan’s podcast. #SpotifyDeleted became a trending topic on Twitter, and Spotify’s support page buckled under the weight of angry fans bombarding the company with complaints.
In direct response to the backlash, Spotify said it would add disclaimers to podcast episodes that include mentions of COVID. “We are working to add a content advisory to any podcast episode that includes a discussion about COVID-19.” Though, like Facebook and other social media companies, it seems that Spotify will apply the disclaimer regardless of the tenor or content of the discussion. So for those keeping score, Spotify will exercise discretion as it relates to rule violations but be indiscriminate in how it flags COVID-related podcast episodes.
Spotify’s fumbling response to the Rogan incident suggests one of two things about the company: one, it has been slow to learn the lessons about moderation that were already learned by other tech companies, including Facebook and Twitter. Or two, it thought that it was different enough from Facebook and Twitter that it didn’t need to head off public outcry over controversial content.
From platform to media company
The company likely wouldn’t be in this position today if it hadn’t decided to enter into the media business. For years, Spotify was a conduit for artists to stream their work to audiences. Spotify worked with distribution companies to get songs, and it managed its apps to promote various artists. Eventually, it did the same with podcasters, though it never produced any shows directly.
But then Spotify decided it needed exclusive content to attract and retain subscribers, and it started by acquiring a handful of podcast production companies, including Gimlet, Anchor FM, Parcast, and The Ringer. But the streaming service sent shockwaves throughout the industry when it announced that it was acquiring an exclusive license to The Joe Rogan Experience for over $100 million. Rogan, a comedian, UFC commentator, and former actor, had built a sizable podcast audience in part through hosting guests that aroused controversy.
Rogan, likely chastened by Spotify leadership, issued a 10-minute qualifier-laden apology on Instagram late last night. First, he responded to Young and Mitchell, saying, “I’m very sorry that they feel that way.” Then he apologized to Spotify. “I’m very sorry that this is happening to them and that they’re taking so much heat from it,” he said.
Finally, toward the end, with a grin on his face, he offered some words to those he later called “the haters,” saying, “If I pissed you off, I’m sorry.”