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Spotify boss defends Joe Rogan deal as stock plunges

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Shares of Spotify fell after it projected weaker profit margins in the first quarter of 2022


Shares of Spotify fell after it projected weaker profit margins in the first quarter of 2022 – Copyright AFP François WALSCHAERTS

The head of embattled streaming service Spotify has told staff that Joe Rogan is vital to the company, but that he doesn’t agree with the controversial podcaster.

The comments were published Thursday as the firm’s stock went into freefall.

Spotify has found itself stuck between its $100 million flagship talent and a popular backlash over Covid-19 misinformation on his shows.

Chief executive Daniel Ek told up-in-arms employees they did not have editorial control over “The Joe Rogan Experience”, which garners up to 11 million listeners per episode.

“There are many things that Joe Rogan says that I strongly disagree with and find very offensive,” he said, according to a transcript of the company town hall published by The Verge.

But “if we want even a shot at achieving our bold ambitions, it will mean having content on Spotify that many of us may not be proud to be associated with. 

“Not anything goes, but there will be opinions, ideas, and beliefs that we disagree with strongly and even makes us angry or sad.”

– Stock rout –

Shares in the company were down 17 percent Thursday in New York, as tech stocks dropped across the board.

These shares have been on the slide since November, but have been badly hit by news that its subscriber growth is slowing.

The drop also comes as controversy swirls over the mega deal with Rogan, who has been accused of spouting misinformation about Covid-19 and vaccination, either directly or through the guests he has on his show.

That led last week to a burgeoning boycott spearheaded by folk-rock star Neil Young and Canadian songstress Joni Mitchell, who asked for their songs to be removed from the platform.

In response Ek announced this week that they would add a content advisory to podcasts about Covid-19, directing listeners to scientific and medical sources.

The Verge reported that staff had been eagerly awaiting the company meeting, with some feeling increasingly frustrated that Spotify was being driven by its deal with Rogan.

Ek told employees that podcasts such as Rogan’s were vital if Spotify were to get its head above the competition in a crowded streaming field.

“We needed to find leverage, and one way we could do this was in the form of exclusives,” he said, according to the transcript.

“To be frank, had we not made some of the choices we did, I am confident that our business wouldn’t be where it is today.”

But that is not to say the company agrees with everything its big-name podcast host utters, Ek said, framing Spotify not as a publisher, but as a platform.

“It is important to note that we do not have creative control over Joe Rogan’s content,” he said.

“We don’t approve his guests in advance, and just like any other creator, we get his content when he publishes, and then we review it, and if it violates our policies, we take the appropriate enforcement actions.”

Spotify is the latest tech company to find itself on the horns of a dilemma that pits a controversial — and moneymaking — anti-establishmentarian against advertisers, employees and public outrage.

Last year Netflix was forced to walk the line between defending comedian Dave Chappelle and placating critics who accused the company of giving air to anti-trans sentiment.



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Oversight board slams Meta for special treatment of high-profile users

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Facebook's Meta funded attack campaign against TikTok: report

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An oversight panel said on Tuesday Facebook and Instagram put business over human rights when giving special treatment to rule-breaking posts by politicians, celebrities and other high-profile users.

A year-long probe by an independent “top court” created by the tech firm ended with it calling for the overhaul of a system known as “cross-check” that shields elite users from Facebook’s content rules.

“While Meta told the board that cross-check aims to advance Meta’s human rights commitments, we found that the program appears more directly structured to satisfy business concerns,” the panel said in a report.

“By providing extra protection to certain users selected largely according to business interests, cross-check allows content which would otherwise be removed quickly to remain up for a longer period, potentially causing harm.”

Cross-check is implemented in a way that does not meet Meta’s human rights responsibilities, according to the board.

Meta told the board the program is intended to provide an additional layer of human review to posts by high-profile users that initially appear to break rules for content, the report indicated.

That has resulted in posts that would have been immediately removed being left up during a review process that could take days or months, according to the report.

“This means that, because of cross-check, content identified as breaking Meta’s rules is left up on Facebook and Instagram when it is most viral and could cause harm,” the board said.

An independent oversight board created by Meta is calling on the Facebook-parent led by Mark Zuckerberg to overhaul its special handling of content posted by VIPs – Copyright GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/AFP WIN MCNAMEE

Meta also failed to determine whether the process had resulted in more accurate decisions regarding content removal, the board said.

Cross-check is flawed in “key areas” including user equality and transparency, the board concluded, making 32 recommended changes to the system.

Content identified as violating Meta’s rules with “high severity” in a first assessment “should be removed or hidden while further review is taking place,” the board said.

“Such content should not be allowed to remain on the platform accruing views simply because the person who posted it is a business partner or celebrity.”

The Oversight Board said it learned of cross-check in 2021, while looking into and eventually endorsing Facebook’s decision to suspend former US president Donald Trump.

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