By Soorin Kim
The music streaming service Spotify is not the first social media platform that comes to mind when conjuring popular sites for political discourse.
Some may even argue against the app’s status as a social medium, emphasizing how unconducive it is to spreading thoughts or political ideologies. But a slew of artists have recently done just that, utilizing Spotify to espouse their beliefs and protest the spreading of misinformation regarding the pandemic.
Neil Young has taken charge of the movement, removing his music from the streaming platform as a demonstration against the site hosting the politically conservative Joe Rogan Experience, a podcast which has contributed to the rampant inaccuracy and confusion regarding facts about Covid-19. Rogan pushes against vaccination and has suggested cures for Covid-19 that are not scientifically proven, like taking the anti-parasite drug Ivermectin.
Several have followed in Young’s footsteps, outraged by Spotify condoning these blatant lies at a time as fragile as this one. Joni Mitchell and Nils Lofgren have both removed their discographies, disgusted by the pandering the company is performing towards Rogan’s massive audience. The widely followed podcaster Brené Brown has announced that she will not be producing any more content for the app until the issue has been resolved.
Spotify has come forward and issued a statement saying they will now implement content warnings for episodes of the Joe Rogan Experience that deal directly with Covid-19. This is not as hard a hit on the conservative goliath as other social media such as Twitter have taken on similar and sometimes even more powerful pundits. Spotify has advocated a policy that can both take into account the very serious safety concerns when it comes to life threatening illnesses and freedom of speech, especially when that speech nets the company millions of dollars of tuned in streamers.
Spotify is not as experienced in dealing with political conflicts as Instagram or Facebook is. Only recently has the app decided to place more of an emphasis on content that is thought of largely as objectively political — podcasts and audiobooks are playing more of a role in listeners’ experiences.
Spotify needs to orchestrate a more concentrated effort to appease its users in regards to these types of situations. Their current lukewarm approach will not suffice.
Issuing a content warning for Rogan’s podcast functions merely as cutting off the hydra’s head: more will grow in its place. Attention will be and has been brought to the podcaster’s already ridiculously popular show. Loyal fans will not heed this warning, and some may even become angry with the “liberal propaganda” that has threatened Rogan’s livelihood and thus become more devoted to the celebrity commentator.
The only solution to effectively rid Spotify of dangerous lies is to get rid of them.
It is almost deceptively simple.
Spotify needs to be held responsible for the content that it hosts and the listeners who may be inadvertently harmed. When other internet giants have taken radical steps such as banning Donald Trump from their sites in the recent past, Spotify seems to be lingering a step behind, eager to pander to both sides of the political spectrum.
Covid-19 is not about politics.
It is an illness which does not discriminate between black or white or red or blue. The population en masse needs to be informed of the scientific facts. We need to take advantage of the fact that we live in an information age where news can be shared as quickly as it comes to fruition. If the ghosts of our ancestors, sick with the Spanish flu, could see how badly we have misstepped in this world of constant opportunities to make everything known to nearly everybody all at once, they would be disappointed.
Neil Young’s first step in fighting back against this monopolizing music site is pretty revolutionary. There really isn’t any other way for artists to utilize this platform, one that is so heavily entrenched in their business and the lives of their fans, to express political opinions. But Young has set a precedent that others are clearly following. The artists are the ones that truly wield the power on this site, and they are finally waking up to this fact. As Spotify ventures more and more into controversial issues as its empire spreads, musicians trying to rally support for various important causes will have a reliable and headline-grabbing method of fighting back against the beast: a method that would never work on platforms such as Instagram.
Spotify is in an odd transitory period as it grapples with problems unmirrored in the social media world. Its content is not user-created, and it is relatively new to political conflict. It will be interesting to see its future unfold.
Will listeners leave in protest and start pirating their music like in the days before streaming? Will Spotify rectify its misinformation scandal to appease protestors? Will the music industry face dark days again? Who’s to say? This event marks a definite turning point in the history of both music streaming and the crusade against misinformation.