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Censorship problems on the homefront: Spotify CEO insists Joe Rogan isn’t getting special treatment

During Spotify‘s recent quarter three earnings report to shareholders, CEO Daniel Ek revealed the Swedish music streaming platform now hosts some 1.9 million podcasts globally. That’s quite the figure, especially considering how Spotify for Podcasters was only launched a little over a year ago. Hedging their bets on a $300 million investment in podcasting back in 2018 to rival that of Apple Music, the Swede emphasized Spotify has become a treasure trove of audio entertainment that extends far beyond music. Of that entertainment-based educational content, Ek threw another $100 million to strike a deal with Joe Rogan to take the famous podcaster away from YouTube.

Following Spotify’s Q3 report, however, Ek had to spend time on a conference call defending himself that he isn’t playing favorites with his super-star podcast host, Rogan. During the call, LightShed partner and analyst Rich Greenfield asked about the “controversy created by [Joe Rogan],” specifically over the guests Rogan is able to welcome onto his podcast: namely right-wing podcast host, Alex Jones. Spotify banned Jones’s podcast back in 2018, along with other right-wing hosts who were seen propagating conspiracy theories, but then allowed Jones to return as a guest on The Joe Rogan Experience (JRE). The controversial episode enflamed internal questions within Spotify over how the company is handling the controversial matter with its employees in terms of fairness to all.

The source of the censorship controversy

On Episode #1555, Rogan welcomed Jones onto his show, saying, “People criticize me for being friends with you and for talking to you. And they also criticize me for not supporting a lot of these people that got banned and de-platformed. My take on it has always been, the best way to counter wrong speech is correct speech. When someone says something that’s wrong, or when someone says a conspiracy theory that’s not accurate, the best way to counter that is to do better speech — to have people say the accurate information, and to let the truth rise to the top.”

When you start censoring people, the problem is it’s a f—king slippery slope. And there’s a reason why we’re so steadfast about protecting the First Amendment in this country.”

Joe Rogan

The move by Rogan, while it may have been his way of protesting Spotify’s censorship policies, was seen as a slap in the face by activist employees at the company. So they sent a list of demands over serious changes needed on The Joe Rogan Experience. Those demands included the removal of at least one JRE episode viewed as transphobic, while also securing editorial oversight on all Rogan’s past and future episodes.

Ek’s contentious conference call

Ek addressed the contentiously controversial subject because of multiple tech news headlines that arose out of pushback from activist team members at Spotify. In the attempt to ease tensions around the matter, Ek felt obligated to clear the air around Spotify’s “content policy” in the conference call. Specifically, how the policy needed to be “evenly applied” regardless of the podcaster in question or the source of criticism. As Ek explained,

So we have a content policy. It’s openly available, anyone can look at it. We obviously review all the content that goes up, and it doesn’t matter if you’re Joe Rogan, or anyone else. We do apply those policies. But it’s important to note that this needs to be evenly applied, no matter if it’s internal pressure or external pressure as well, [given that] we are a creative platform for lots of creators.”

Daniel Ek, Spotify CEO

The overtly neutral statement seemed to dance around the overarching disagreements between Rogan and other more politically correct employees, which appear unlikely to abate in the near future.

“Again, overall I would just say we have millions of millions of creators on the platform and almost 70 million pieces of content,” Ek responded rather robotically while pointing to Spotify’s standardized content moderation policies. “And the most important thing for us is that we, anything we do on our platform, is based on consistently applying those policies.”

Back to the question at hand: Whose First Amendment freedoms?

Ek’s sterile comments over policy raises more questions than answers over Spotify’s treatment of varying levels of employees. Should one high-profile podcaster’s freedom of speech be held up over lower-level employees who take offense to Rogan’s speech? Or should Rogan be silenced in favor of political correctness?

It’s an age-old chicken-or-egg question that centers around changing First Amendment issues in the over-saturated information age… one that will likely continue to fester within the company’s culture down the line… especially when Spotify becomes the exclusive platform for The Joe Rogan Experience beginning in 2021. Spotify employees have since demanded the Alex Jones interview be removed from Spotify over anti-mask comments.

For now, the JRE episode is also available on YouTube.

H/T: Digital Music News.