The Joe Rogan situation at Spotify is getting more and more confused.
As the situation has evolved, so has the way the company handles its star podcaster. One day it will say that it is a hands-off platform that treats all creators the same. The following admits to having backdoor discussions with Rogan and pulling episodes over outrage at the language used on the show. The whiplash undermines Spotify’s story of how it interacts with Rogan and other podcasters and offers a glimpse into the delicate relationship between Rogan and the company that depends on him to stay differentiated. Let’s dive into where things don’t line up.
Spotify has reiterated multiple times that it sees itself as just a platform for podcasts — despite Rogan reportedly paid $100 million to distribute his show. That Spotify wants to believe that Rogan is an audio maker like any other has been a constant chorus ever since Neil Young and other musicians took their music off the platform nearly two weeks ago because they believed Rogan and his guests were spreading misinformation about COVID-19.
Spotify responded to that controversy by saying it would only take moderation action against content that violates the rules — rules that were just made public The edge first reported on them, and that Spotify itself published days later.
That Spotify paid $100 million to distribute exclusively The Joe Rogan Experience nothing should change, according to CEO Daniel Ek, who discussed that relationship directly in an internal town hall last week:
“Even JRE is an exclusive, it’s licensed content,” Ek said in comments obtained by ” The edge† “It’s important to note that we have no creative control over Joe Rogan’s content. We don’t pre-approve its guests, and like any creator, we get its content when it publishes, and then we review it, and if it violates our policies, we take appropriate enforcement action.”
Ek was also clear that Rogan was critical to the company’s success, telling employees that the Spotify catalog was no different from rivals and that signing exclusive products like Rogan gave the company leverage in negotiations with Amazon, Google and Tesla. By signing Rogan, Spotify became the number one podcasting app in the US, he noted.
On this point, Spotify’s stance seemed clear: Rogan was critical to Spotify’s success, and he could say whatever he wanted, as long as it fit within Spotify’s moderation rules. Dustee Jenkins, Spotify’s head of global communications and public relations, confirmed to Spotify employees that Rogan would be treated like any other creator under those rules: “We apply our policies consistently and objectively,” she wrote in a note to staff. by means of The edge†
During the company’s Feb. 3 earnings call, Ek made it clear that the rules were the rules and that Spotify “wouldn’t change our policy based on one creator, nor would we change it based on a media cycle or calls from anyone else.”
Then the next Joe Rogan media cycle arrived.
Musician India Arie took her music off the platform last week due to Rogan’s repeated use of the n-word and shared a viral video montage of Rogan using racist comments on his podcast – a montage originally shot in January 2020. unlike how it handled Young and Joni Mitchell against the misinformation about COVID, Spotify intervened quickly.
Spotify’s public content rules don’t seem to prohibit the use of the n-word. This is the most relevant section on what is prohibited:
“Content that incites violence or hatred against any person or group of people based on race, religion, gender identity or expression, sex, ethnicity, nationality, sexual orientation, veteran status, age, disability, or other characteristics related to systemic discrimination or marginalization includes, but may not be limited to:
praising, supporting, or inciting violence against any person or group of people based on the characteristics listed above
dehumanizing statements about a person or group based on the protected characteristics mentioned above
promoting or glorifying hate groups and their associated images and/or symbols”
Rogan’s use of the n-word doesn’t seem to fall into any of these categories. Based on Spotify’s own statements about how it applies its rules, the episodes that use that language should remain live, as they have been for over a year. And they certainly shouldn’t come down because of a ‘media cycle’.
But on Friday, episodes of JRE began to disappear and join previous deleted episodes. Spotify has since removed more than 100 episodes, according to JREMissing.com.
This happened after Ek and the team discussed removing episodes with Rogan, according to an internal memo viewed by The edge† In it, Ek again states that he believes Spotify is a neutral platform, even if it engages in content-forming behavior.
Ek says Spotify employees spoke to Rogan about “some of the content on his show, including his history of using racially insensitive language” and following these chats “and his own reflections,” says Ek Rogan “chose to remove some episodes from Spotify.”
So: after a PR crisis, Spotify reached out to Rogan and made him agree to remove episodes of his show from the platform. Ek’s memo also states that the company will now spend $100 million on licensing and marketing content created by creators from historically marginalized communities — a move the company hasn’t officially announced, but clearly wants credit for.
At the same time, former guests of Rogan’s show are outraged, pointing to Spotify as an example of wider conspiracy theories surrounding government censorship, canceling culture and more. Michael Malice and Kyle Kulinskic have been tweeting ever since, like Tim Dillon† Whitney Cummings† Lex Fridmanand others.
Spotify wants it in every way: only to be considered a platform when it comes to disinformation about COVID, but to be given the honor of being an engaged and responsible participant when it comes to racist language. The result is confused actions, confused messages, and confused creators.
The company did not respond to a request for comment.