(Bloomberg) -- A coalition of 270 scientists and medical professionals this week issued an open letter to Spotify Technology SA, urging the streaming platform to establish a misinformation policy after an episode of the Joe Rogan Experience, among its most listened-to podcasts, promoted what they said were “baseless conspiracy theories” about the pandemic.
The Dec. 31 program featured Robert Malone, a doctor who has called himself the “inventor” of mRNA vaccines, the type that serves as the basis for the Covid-19 vaccine. Malone was banned from Twitter for circulating anti-vaccine misinformation. YouTube deleted a recording of the Rogan podcast shortly after it was uploaded to the website by a third-party.
“By allowing the propagation of false and societally harmful assertions, Spotify is enabling its hosted media to damage public trust in scientific research and sow doubt in the credibility of data-driven guidance offered by medical professionals,” the letter says. The signers asked Spotify “to immediately establish a clear and public policy to moderate misinformation on its platform.”
Representatives for Spotify and Rogan didn’t immediately return a request for comment.
Since the start of the pandemic, Spotify has removed 20,000 podcast episodes that contained Covid misinformation. The company has deleted more than 40 episodes of Rogan's podcast to date. It prohibits infringing and illegal content, as well as hate speech, on its platforms. But that hasn’t barred some creators from spreading false information. Critics say Spotify doesn’t have robust policies to combat misinformation, like Alphabet Inc.’s Youtube, Meta Platforms Inc.’s Facebook and other social media companies have adopted in recent years.
The calculus for Spotify is complicated. The company has made a multibillion dollar investment in podcasting, which is only starting to pay off. Advertising generated 13% of total sales in the third quarter, and Chief Executive Officer Daniel Ek projected it would one day account for more than 20%. To achieve those goals, exclusive shows like Joe Rogan’s are key — his podcast was no. 1 on Spotify globally and in the U.S. in 2021.
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An estimated 11 million people listen to the Joe Rogan Experience, which has been exclusive to Spotify since September 2020 following a deal made in May of that year. In his programs, Rogan has touted ivermectin as a potential Covid-19 therapy, which the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has debunked. He has also previously said he does not think young people “need to worry” about being vaccinated against Covid-19. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention currently recommends that people ages 5 and older receive one shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna mRNA vaccines, or one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
“Spotify is not the government, they are a private business that has the choice and platform to pay and work with who they want to, and it’s frankly irresponsible to pay for spreading misinformation,” said Seth Trueger, who signed the petition and is an associate professor at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.
Spotify’s stock rose more than 11% when it first announced its deal to license the rights to Rogan’s podcast for its platform. Rogan said in a video he would not become a Spotify employee and that his show wouldn’t change.
Dawn Ostroff, Spotify’s chief content officer, said in May that, “like any of our content, all of Joe’s episodes and shows have to adhere to our content policies. But he’s done an incredible job building an audience.” She added that the company is “very happy with the deal.”
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