A controversy over coronavirus misinformation on Spotify is heating up, with a handful of musicians this weekend joining Neil Young in saying they want their music off the streaming platform as it continues to host provocative podcaster Joe Rogan.
Rock musician Nils Lofgren, best known as a member of Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band as well as Crazy Horse, on Saturday became the latest artist to join a protest kicked off by his bandmate Young, saying in a statement that he, too, would "cut ties with Spotify" and urged "all musicians, artists and music lovers everywhere" to do the same. Singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell also said she plans to remove her music from Spotify in solidarity with Young "and the global scientific and medical communities."
Separately, Brené Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston who hosts the popular podcasts "Unlocking Us" and "Dare to Lead" on Spotify, tweeted Saturday that she "will not be releasing any podcasts until further notice" but did not list a specific reason or whether the announcement was linked to the broader protest. The Washington Post could not immediately reach Brown for comment.
Britain's Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, who have signed a deal to produce and host podcasts for Spotify, say they've urged the company to combat misinformation. They have not, however, announced any plans to part ways with the service. "Hundreds of millions of people are affected by the serious harms of rampant mis- and disinformation every day. Last April, our co-founders began expressing concerns to our partners at Spotify about the all too real consequences of COVID-19 misinformation on its platform," a spokesperson for the couple told Reuters on Sunday. "We look to Spotify to meet this moment and are committed to continuing our work together as it does."
The latest developments are escalating pressure on Spotify to clarify how it will weigh promoting the free speech of its content creators against the impact that some can have on public health during the pandemic. The company is seeking to dominate the podcast space and faces growing scrutiny as the medium attracts more anti-vaccine activists who run afoul of misinformation policies on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
And competitors appear to be seeking an advantage amid the controversy: Apple Music on Friday called itself the "the home of Neil Young" in a tweet promoting his catalogue.
Lofgren and Mitchell in their statements said they stood in solidarity with Young, who collaborated with Crazy Horse to produce many well-known albums. Young had demanded that his music be taken off the streaming platform in response to the presence of "fake information about vaccines" in some of the content it hosts.
The letter, which was posted to his website and has since been removed, cited Joe Rogan, who hosts "The Joe Rogan Experience," as part of Young's issue with Spotify. "They can have Rogan or Young," the legendary musician reportedly wrote. "Not both."
Spotify soon began removing Young's music from its catalogue, including his best-known hits such as "Heart of Gold," "Harvest Moon" and "Rockin' in the Free World."
Mitchell, whose renowned album "Blue" just turned 50, wrote in a statement on her website on Friday that she "decided to remove all of" her music from Spotify because "irresponsible people are spreading lies that are costing people their lives."
Spotify, in a statement previously provided to The Washington Post, acknowledged the balancing act. "We want all the world's music and audio content to be available to Spotify users. With that comes great responsibility in balancing both safety for listeners and freedom for creators," a Spotify spokesperson said.
"We have detailed content policies in place and we've removed over 20,000 podcast episodes related to covid-19 since the start of the pandemic," the statement continued. "We regret Neil's decision to remove his music from Spotify, but hope to welcome him back soon."
Rogan, whose immensely popular podcast Spotify exclusively acquired in 2020, has questioned the need for young, healthy people to get vaccinated against the coronavirus, and hosted guests who have promoted conspiracy theories about the pandemic.
Earlier this month, 270 experts called on Spotify in an open letter to "immediately establish a clear and public policy to moderate misinformation on its platform."
The experts particularly criticized an episode of "The Joe Rogan Experience" in which Rogan interviewed Robert Malone, a doctor and prominent skeptic of the coronavirus vaccines, as an example of the podcast's "concerning history of broadcasting misinformation, particularly regarding" the pandemic.
The episode "is not the only transgression to occur on the Spotify platform, but a relevant example of the platform's failure to mitigate the damage it is causing," the experts wrote.
Young in a statement posted to his website on Wednesday said he "first learned" of the prevalence of misinformation around the pandemic on Spotify "by reading that 200 plus doctors had joined forces, taking on the dangerous life-threatening COVID falsehoods found in SPOTIFY programming."
"I am happy and proud to stand in solidarity with the front line health care workers who risk their lives every day to help others," he wrote on Friday.
The Washington Post