Opinion: This is Neil Young’s free world, not Joe Rogan’s
“I am doing this because Spotify is spreading misinformation about vaccines – potentially causing the death of those who believe the misinformation is being spread by them,” Young wrote in a letter to his management team, which was reported for the first time by Rolling Stone and has now been deleted. “Please act immediately today and let me know the timing.”
And now Young is asking the company to take action as well.
“I want you to let Spotify know immediately TODAY that I want all my music removed from their platform,” he wrote. “They can have Rogan or Young. Not both.”
If Spotify chooses Rogan over Young, I hope Young fans – like me – will take a stand with him. That can mean buying Young’s albums, and it certainly means letting Spotify know you’re unhappy with their decision. And even if Neil Young isn’t in your typical Spotify rotation, it’s a great time to recognize the power of artists and to support those who use their platforms for good – even if you never listen to Young’s albums. .
It seems unlikely that Spotify will choose Young over one of its biggest cash cows. But it’s still commendable that Young made that statement. Spotify now faces a very public issue and needs to take a public stand: are they going to put profits ahead of public health?
To what extent a streaming platform, like a social media platform, should control what people can say on it is admittedly a difficult question to analyze. I generally err on the side of less censorship and more latitude and speech – even for bad or hateful speech.
The Rogan/Spotify situation, however, is less of a freewheeling public square than, say, Twitter; there is a business relationship closer to a traditional press house and its stars. Rogan is no random person on the internet; it’s a presenter imbued with the authority of the company who pays for his show. He should be able to discuss whatever he wants, even if it offends people who disagree with him politically.
But the company should shut down potentially deadly conspiracy theories and the kind of misinformation that could lead to unnecessary illnesses and deaths.
This is where Neil Young draws the line. Other musicians and podcasters who appear on Spotify should follow suit and use their platforms to tell the company that it has obligations to the listening public.
But we’ve always understood that there’s a big difference between artists and musicians, whose crafts have always drawn on elements of fantasy and interpretation, and those like Rogan who claim to speak from a place of expertise and authority. It’s like comparing David Bowie to Walter Cronkite.
Not that Rogan is a Cronkite; he’s not a reputable journalist, or a journalist at all. But he hosts an interview show that claims to educate his audience. It’s not presented as fiction or fantasy – it’s not like David Bowie is claiming to be Major Tom (no reasonable person would actually believe that Bowie was floating in space).
However, reasonable people may very well believe that when Rogan presents his guests as knowledgeable experts, they are indeed knowledgeable experts. Rogan says his show is an intellectually honest exploration of ideas. The Covid misinformation that Rogan is spreading is being told as the truth. And an overwhelming number of people clearly believe it.
Spotify shouldn’t be able to have it both ways. If Rogan’s podcast sounds more like music than a truthful exploration of ideas featuring serious experts, then the company should classify it as fiction or fantasy, and make it clear to listeners that what they hear is as divorced from reality as Major Tom was from planet Earth.
Or they should listen to Neil Young and demand that their highest paid and most popular podcast hosts not pose a direct threat to public health.