You probably remember a few months ago when you couldn’t turn on the news, check Twitter or talk to your conservative uncle without broaching the issue of Joe Rogan, who is signed to an exclusive deal with Spotify worth more than $200 million. In January, 270 physicians and scientists published an open letter to Spotify demanding that it institute misinformation policies in light of Rogan’s podcast, which tops Spotify’s charts and has repeatedly served as a platform for false narratives about the virus. Then, musical icons like Neil Young and Joni Mitchell pulled their libraries from the platform in protest, prompting Spotify to belatedly publish its platform rules. Now, Spotify finally rolled out a content advisory warning on podcasts that discuss COVID-19, two months after it committed to launching the feature.
The advisory is a blue bar that appears atop episodes of podcasts that discuss COVID-19, prompting listeners to click to learn more. This directs users to its COVID-19 information hub, which it added in March 2020. TechCrunch asked Spotify how its app determines which podcast episodes address COVID-19 — it appears that the advisory shows up if words like “COVID-19,” “coronavirus” or “pandemic” appear in the metadata of an episode, including its title.
“On January 30, 2022, Spotify announced plans to add a content advisory to any podcast episode that includes a discussion about COVID-19. Three days later, on Feb 2, we launched the content advisory on our platform and we’ve been adding it to episodes that include discussion about COVID-19 on a rolling basis ever since. Today, the COVID content advisory appears on ~1.4 million podcast episodes on our platform,” a Spotify spokesperson said.
Social platforms like Twitter acted faster in their attempts to combat the spread of COVID-19 misinformation. Just days after lockdowns in the U.S. began, Twitter banned any tweets that could help the virus spread. Two months later, it released a coronavirus advisory warning on tweets that may contain false information. Competing streaming services like Apple Podcasts don’t have these advisory warnings, though Apple Podcasts also doesn’t fund a podcaster who talks to right-wing conspiracy theorists for fun.
Despite its PR nightmare, as calls to boycott Spotify trended across social media, the backlash did little to boost Spotify’s rivals. Spotify remains dominant, though other platforms have begun to slowly chip away at its lead.
Update, 3/28/22, 9:20 PM ET with clarification from Spotify about the timeline of the feature rollout.