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Rogan’s use of racial slurs adds to pressure on Spotify

Joe Rogan’s mouth put Spotify in a tight spot. Comments about the coronavirus vaccine and racial slurs on some episodes of its popular podcast are forcing the streaming service to weigh some tough choices.

Spotify must decide its position on race relations and vaccine misinformation in a society very sensitive to both issues. Then there’s the business decision on what to do with Rogan’s $100 million podcast, which threatens the bottom line but is also a key part of the company’s strategy to be a box office. single for audio.

Neither the streaming service nor Rogan were speaking on Sunday. But experts say Spotify’s management team must choose whether or not to sever ties with Rogan as it risks more musicians pulling their jobs in protest. Or is there a middle ground that might be acceptable to artists and subscribers?

Whatever decision emerges will sit well with neither in an increasingly polarized country.

On race, the choice is between keeping Rogan and sending a message that society has become too “woke” or showing that Spotify is more sensitive to a multiracial society, said Adia Harvey Wingfield, professor of sociology at the University of Washington. in St. Louis.

“If Spotify says ‘We can’t drop it. He has the right to say whatever he wants,” it continues down the line where there is this implicit support for saying racist things on these platforms,” she said.

The streaming site must also decide whether offensive words are allowed elsewhere on its app, where songs containing racist, homophobic and anti-immigrant messages are available, said John Wihbey, a professor at Northeastern University and an expert in emerging technologies.

“There’s a real soul-searching to be done beyond Joe,” Wihbey said. “It’s a big computational moment for entertainment and streaming platforms to see where the window is, which exceeds the limit.”

The bottom line should be pretty straightforward for Spotify, said Erik Gordon, a business and law professor at the University of Michigan. Conservative Rogan contrasts with the much more liberal musicians who generate the bulk of Spotify’s profits, he said.

“They can’t reject artists. Artists make Spotify,” Gordon said. “They need to settle down with Rogan, let him go to a home that will be consistent with who he is. And everyone will be better off.

Having Rogan on Spotify is like having a political party with Donald Trump running for president and liberal Elizabeth Warren running for vice president. “It won’t work,” Gordon said.

Spotify reports having 406 million monthly active users, up almost 20% from last year, and advertising has increased largely thanks to podcasting. The company held 31% of the 524 million music streaming subscriptions worldwide in the second quarter of 2021, more than double the second place of Apple Music, according to Midia Research.

Rogan’s public unrest began on Jan. 24 when musician Neil Young called for his music to be taken down over fears Rogan was promoting skepticism about COVID-19 vaccines. Other artists have followed suit, including Joni Mitchell and Roxane Gay.

The scrutiny only intensified when a video compilation emerged last week showing Rogan repeatedly using racial slurs. Grammy-winning artist India.Arie posted it on her Instagram, using the hashtag #DeleteSpotify.

The company has yet to publicly address the slurs, but Spotify recently removed dozens of episodes from the podcast.

Spotify, which reportedly paid more than $100 million to license Rogan’s podcast, previously said it would soon add a disclaimer to all podcasts that discuss COVID-19, directing listeners to factual and up-to-date information from scientists and public health experts.

“They take this money that’s built from streaming, and they pay this guy $100 million, but they pay us like 0.003% of a dime,” Arie wrote. “I don’t want to generate money that pays for that.”

Rogan apologized on Saturday, saying the slurs were “the most regrettable and shameful thing” he has ever had to deal with and that he hasn’t used the N-word in years.

Spotify CEO and co-founder Daniel Ek said last week, before racial slurs resurfaced, that “it’s important to me that we don’t take the position of content censor.”

Ek told the Wall Street Journal last week that he took responsibility for being “too slow to respond” to criticism over vaccine misinformation. It took the company five days to publicly respond to Young.

“It has become clear to me that we have an obligation to do more to provide balance and access to widely accepted information from the medical and scientific communities that guides us through this unprecedented time,” Ek continued in a statement. .

Rogan is an odd mix of shock-jock and host who leads discussions on public policy, arts and culture, Wihbey said, describing his brand as conservative “bro America.”

His comments were clearly racist, Wihbey said, but he hopes Rogan sees this as a chance to discuss race and vaccine issues in depth in future episodes. Otherwise, his audience might not hear the discussions, Wihbey said.

“I think bringing together that kind of audience is important,” he said. “He can say things that I think can move the needle.”

Wingfield doubts Spotify can keep Rogan, but she said the controversy could be positive if it begins a shift towards discussions of racial stereotypes.

“I think if Joe Rogan kind of learns from this experience and becomes a driving voice for this conversation, that could be really valuable,” she said. “But I want to stress again that it’s a pretty big if, and I don’t know if it will come to that.”