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Spotify Adds “Content Advisory” on COVID-19 Content in Wake of Neil Young Boycott [UPDATED]

CEO Daniel Ek also announces that the company is making its "platform rules" viewable to the public

Spotify content advisory
Neil Young (photo by Debi Del Grande) and Spotify logo
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    Spotify has announced that it will begin adding a “content advisory” to all podcasts that include information about COVID-19, following the company’s decision to continue streaming The Joe Rogan Experience despite a boycott from Neil Young. In a new open letter issued on Sunday (January 30th), CEO Daniel Ek also revealed that Spotify is making the company’s “platform rules” public for all to see.

    Update – March 29th: While the new feature was supposed to roll out on February 2nd, CNBC notes it only started appearing for users on Monday, March 28th.

    As previously reported, Young called out Spotify for presenting Rogan’s podcast, which has been criticized for disseminating questionable information about COVID-19 and its vaccines. The legendary rocker issued an ultimatum to the company to either remove his music or the podcast. As he put it, “They can have Rogan or Young. Not both.” Spotify promptly removed Young’s music, stating, “We want all the world’s music and audio content to be available to Spotify users. With that comes great responsibility in balancing both safety for listeners and freedom for creators.”

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    Despite not winning that initial battle on the surface, it appears that Young’s strong stance has made a significant impact on Spotify’s policies. In the new notice posted to the Spotify website, Ek laid out the company’s new plan to be more transparent with their rules and regulations, as well as issue a disclaimer at the beginning of any COVID-related content:

    “A decade ago, we created Spotify to enable the work of creators around the world to be heard and enjoyed by listeners around the world. To our very core, we believe that listening is everything. Pick almost any issue and you will find people and opinions on either side of it. Personally, there are plenty of individuals and views on Spotify that I disagree with strongly. We know 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 while also making sure that there are rules in place and consequences for those who violate them.

    You’ve had a lot of questions over the last few days about our platform policies and the lines we have drawn between what is acceptable and what is not. We have had rules in place for many years but admittedly, we haven’t been transparent around the policies that guide our content more broadly. This, in turn, led to questions around their application to serious issues including COVID-19.

    Based on the feedback over the last several weeks, it’s become clear to me that we have an obligation to do more to provide balance and access to widely-accepted information from the medical and scientific communities guiding us through this unprecedented time. These issues are incredibly complex. We’ve heard you – especially those from the medical and scientific communities – and are taking the following steps:

    Today we are publishing our long-standing Platform Rules. These policies were developed by our internal team in concert with a number of outside experts and are updated regularly to reflect the changing safety landscape. 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. You can now find them on our newsroom, and they’ll live permanently on the main Spotify website. They are being localized into various languages to help our users understand how Spotify assesses all content on our platform.

    We are working to add a content advisory to any podcast episode that includes a discussion about COVID-19. This advisory will direct listeners to our dedicated COVID-19 Hub, a resource that provides easy access to data-driven facts, up-to-date information as shared by scientists, physicians, academics and public health authorities around the world, as well as links to trusted sources. This new effort to combat misinformation will roll out to countries around the world in the coming days. To

    We will also begin testing ways to highlight our Platform Rules in our creator and publisher tools to raise awareness around what’s acceptable and help creators understand their accountability for the content they post on our platform. This is in addition to the terms that creators and publishers agree to governing their use of our services.

    I want you to know that from the very first days of the pandemic, Spotify has been biased toward action. We launched a variety of educational resources and campaigns to raise awareness and we developed and promoted a global COVID-19 Information Hub. We donated ad inventory to various organizations for vaccine awareness, funds to the World Health Organization and COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX) to increase vaccine equity and supported the Go Give One fundraising campaign. And we established a music relief project to support the creative community. While this is not a complete list, I hope it gives you a sense of how seriously we’ve approached the pandemic as a company.

    I trust our policies, the research and expertise that inform their development, and our aspiration to apply them in a way that allows for broad debate and discussion, within the lines. We take this seriously and will continue to partner with experts and invest heavily in our platform functionality and product capabilities for the benefit of creators and listeners alike. That doesn’t mean that we always get it right, but we are committed to learning, growing and evolving.

    Daniel”

    In the days since Young took his stance, other artists have followed his lead. Joni Mitchell stood in solidarity with Young, asking Spotify to remove her music, as did E Street Band and Crazy Horse member Nils Lofgren. Meanwhile, Disturbed frontman David Draiman sided with Spotify’s decision to keep streaming Joe Rogan’s podcast, not because he agrees with Rogan’s viewpoints, but because he supports “free speech.”

    Whether or not this weekend’s actions are enough to ward off further artist defections remain to be seen. But some musicians have used the current backlash to also highlight the ongoing controversy over Spotify’s lackluster royalty rates.

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    It’s also worth noting that since the beginning of 2022, Spotify’s stock price has plummeted from a high of $300 to $173, including a $20 drop since Young’s ultimatum on January 24th. While the current boycott is not solely responsible for Spotify’s stock performance, daily news articles about another artist leaving the platform surely isn’t helping. We’ll see what Monday has to be bring.

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