Rock legend Neil Young pulled his music from Spotify on Wednesday in response to ongoing COVID-19 vaccine misinformation spread by Joe Rogan, the streaming platform’s most prominent podcast host, according to the New York Times.
The move comes after Young established an ultimatum for Spotify in a since-deleted letter to his record label and management, saying the audio streaming platform could either take down the episodes with misinformation, or lose him as an artist. A day later, he made good on his promise, underscoring what he views as an urgent matter as the Omicron variant of COVID-19 continues to surge through populations worldwide.
“I first learned of this problem by reading that 200-plus doctors had joined forces, taking on the dangerous, life-threatening COVID falsehoods found in Spotify programming,” Young wrote in a statement, referring to an open letter written by hundreds of medical professionals who urged Spotify to remove vaccine misinformation from its streaming services.
“Most of the listeners hearing the unfactual, misleading, and false COVID information on Spotify are 24 years old, impressionable, and easy to swing to the wrong side of the truth. These young people believe Spotify would never present grossly unfactual information. They unfortunately are wrong. I knew I had to try to point that out.”
“We obviously review all the content that goes up,” he said in a Thursday earnings call, according to Business Insider. “And it doesn't matter if you're Joe Rogan or anyone else, we do apply those [content] policies.”
In a 2020 interview with the Financial Times regarding the same podcast, Ek said Spotify is “not looking to play a role in what [content creators] should say.”
The medical professionals who wrote the original open letter, dated Dec. 31, 2021, singled out an episode of Rogan’s podcast in which Dr. Robert Malone, a widely discredited doctor, makes various false claims about the vaccine, including that doctors hypnotized people into getting the shot.
“Dr. Malone’s interview has reached many tens of millions of listeners vulnerable to predatory medical misinformation,” they wrote. “Mass-misinformation events of this scale have extraordinarily dangerous ramifications. As scientists, we face backlash and resistance as the public grows to distrust our research and expertise. As educators and science communicators, we are tasked with repairing the public’s damaged understanding of science and medicine. As physicians, we bear the arduous weight of a pandemic that has stretched our medical systems to their limits and only stands to be exacerbated by the anti-vaccination sentiment woven into this and other episodes of Rogan’s podcast.”
COVID-19 misinformation has been a primary obstacle in the global effort to vaccinate populations and overcome the pandemic. The World Health Organization calls this an “infodemic.” Since its onset, the infodemic turned what might have been a unifying public health crisis that people rally around into a divisive and mean-spirited political brawl.
This gets supercharged by prominent voices, according to the WHO.
Rogan has cast doubt on the vaccine for months and even encouraged his fans to avoid getting it if they’re young and healthy. He has brought on numerous guests who present themselves as medical experts who go on to spread COVID-19 misinformation.
The impact of this messaging is hard to overstate, according to the open letter of scientists. Each episode of Rogan’s podcast draws roughly 11 million listeners with an audience that skews young and male.
The media watchdog Media Matters notes that young men are drawn to the podcast because of Rogan’s affiliation with mixed martial arts (MMA) and gym culture. In between episodes on health and fitness, Rogan will bring on guests who discredit the COVID-19 vaccine as though it’s part and parcel of the same worldview, the organization said.
Young’s decision to leave Spotify may not last forever, but it has raised awareness of the harms of COVID-19 misinformation.