Neil Young, Joe Rogan and the tricky question of misinformation for streaming kings

Neil Young’s choice to withdraw from Spotify because of popular and controversial American host Joe Rogan’s podcast puts streaming platforms in the face of new responsibilities on misinformation, like social networks.

• Read also: Neil Young accuses Spotify of COVID misinformation

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From the wide repertoire of the folk-rock legend, only songs remained on Spotify on Thursday where he performs on the albums of other artists or live.

Neil Young, 76, 2.4 million subscribers on the Swedish platform has therefore carried out the threat to pack his bags if Spotify does not give up hosting the podcast “The Joe Rogan Experience” (JRE).

“Spotify has become a place for potentially deadly Covid misinformation. Lies sold for money,” said the American-Canadian singer, whose gesture was applauded by the boss of the World Health Organization (WHO) Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

Popular and maligned, Joe Rogan, who hosts an exclusive and daily podcast on Spotify – the most listened to on the platform in 2021 – is notably accused of having discouraged anti-Covid vaccination among young people and promoted ivermectin, a unauthorized processing.

rappers

More than 200 American health professionals had recently sounded the alarm, after he had received on his show a doctor much appreciated by anti-vaccines, Dr. Robert Malone.

Through the voice of a spokesperson, Spotify regretted the departure of Neil Young, but highlighted the balance between “listener safety and creative freedom”.

Last year, his boss, Daniel Ek, judged on an Axios podcast (Re: Cap) that the platform had no editorial responsibility for the content of its podcasts.

“We also have rappers (…) who make tens of millions of dollars or more every year on Spotify. And we don’t tell them what to put in their songs,” he said.

Neil Young called on other artists to follow him.

Like social networks, should streaming platforms control their content? Not so simple, answer the experts interviewed by AFP.

Boycott

“He has every right to do what he does” and “he is probably one of the only artists who can afford such calls”, judges the director of the “freedom of expression” program of the writers’ advocacy organization Pen America, Summer Lopez.

But she expressed her reservations in the event of “wider calls for a boycott of Spotify”, because “it is an essential platform for artists to reach their audiences, and a source of income”.

She also points out that unlike social networks, a streaming platform is “first designed to distribute works of art”.

“I think the real problem here is that Spotify doesn’t have a clear policy on this,” she adds, questioning the platform’s willingness to set aside its “business concerns.”

The world of podcasts is in any case conducive to all kinds of misinformation, judges an analyst from the Brookings Institution, Valerie Wirtschafter. Because “it is a huge and very decentralized space”. But also because the experience of sound combined with the conversational tone of podcasts “potentially makes this medium a stronger medium for these untruths and misinformation to spread.”

Needle

And tracking down these untruths in a podcast, “is a bit like looking for a needle in a haystack,” she says. An episode of JRE easily lasts two to three hours.

Among the solutions, Valerie Wirtschafter cites moderation messages that could be broadcast before an episode, as well as measures on the platforms’ algorithms to prevent them from “amplifying harmful content”.

For his part, the specialist in conspiracy theories at the University of Miami, Joseph Uscinski, warns against the idea of ​​entrusting any “censorship tool” to a government in order to combat misinformation.

“They may be used for good reasons today, but they will be available tomorrow for people who aren’t as caring,” he notes.

Neil Young, victim when he was a child of an attack of poliomyelitis from which he kept the after-effects all his life, defended himself from any desire for censorship.

“I did it because deep in my heart I had no other choice,” he wrote. “This is who I am. I don’t censor anyone.”

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