Spotify’s concessions over Rogan fail to placate censors

The fuss over podcaster Joe Rogan having conversations some people don’t like continues, with Spotify introducing Facebook-style advisory labels.

In a blog post, Spotify CEO Daniel Ek sought to update the company’s rules around Covid, a move clearly prompted by the Rogan fuss. “…we have an obligation to do more to provide balance and access to widely-accepted information from the medical and scientific communities…” he conceded. The main way Spotify plans to do this is to add a content advisory to any pod that talks about Covid, which will link to an information hub on the matter.

This should be sufficient for all the people claiming to be concerned about ‘misinformation’, since all the easily swayed innocents they’re claiming to act on behalf of are being given an easy path towards further information on the matter. For many, however, their real agenda has been exposed by their rejection of this concession or any other short of either outright censorship of Rogan or his expulsion from Spotify.

Rogan, too, felt compelled to directly address the controversy in a video published on Instagram. “They have an opinion that’s different from the mainstream narrative,” he said, in reference to the recent guests that so upset some antiquated musicians. In response to the accusation of spreading misinformation, he said: “Many of the things we thought of as misinformation just a short while ago are now accepted as fact.”


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This is a key point. Who decides what is and isn’t misinformation? Who is qualified or even has a popular mandate to be the ultimate arbiter of truth? Rogan conceded the content advisory labels are a good idea and pledged to try to immediately balance his most controversial guests with those that represent a contrary view. “I don’t know what else I can do differently,” said Rogan, before concluding: “It’s good to have some haters – it makes you reassess what you’re doing and put things into perspective.”

A podcast (such as our own, the most recent of which features a discussion of this very matter) is just a monologue or conversation published onto the internet. There are millions of them, many of which will feature inaccuracies, fringe opinions and offensive material. Yet somehow they have escaped the attention of Neil Young and the other censors, presumably because they are less influential.

The term ‘misinformation’ has become code for anything not rubber stamped by the establishment. This is about control of public information, with many apparently wishing it could be entirely restricted to establishment sources. In other words, it’s impossible for the likes of the BBC or the New York Times to disseminate misinformation. But the internet genie is already out of the bottle and the establishment has had a bad pandemic when it comes to accuracy, so people are voting with their feet.

Rogan is guilty of nothing more than having conversations a lot of people want to listen to. The problem for the establishment is that he’s more popular than it and is entirely beyond its control. The frequent attacks on Spotify are symptomatic of the resulting frustrated impotence and serve only to increase Rogan’s audience. The establishment can’t win this battle but will doubtless continue to rage against the dying of the light. Spotify’s share price was up 3% in pre-market trading at time of writing.


  1. Avatar Rintintin 31/01/2022 @ 3:48 pm

    Also left unsaid is why are the likes of Neil Young and Joni Mitchell are suddenly carrying water for the ‘establishment’…? Makes a mockery of their earlier selves, their so-called ‘rage against the system’ turns out to have been performance at best. “Stunning and brave”? What a joke.

  2. Avatar Andy Tiller 31/01/2022 @ 3:53 pm

    Who decides what is and isn’t misinformation? When it’s science we’re talking about, if the vast majority of the global scientific community are aligned on the same interpretation of the facts, then any contrary view needs to be presented very carefully indeed. This is how science works. Of course, the majority of scientists can be wrong (eg when an Einstein comes along), and of course scientific opinion changes as we learn more, but the current majority view of the global scientific community is still our most reliable guide. The problem comes when, in the interest of having a good debate, or free speech, or whatever, the media sets up a forum presenting all alternative views as equally valid, and thereby (inadvertently or not) gives unwarranted weight to conspiracy theories or peddlers of snake oil (Andrew Wakefield and the MMR vaccine scandal being an example of how this can cause a lot of harm). The media does have an editorial responsibility and can’t wash its hands of it by accusing “the establishment” of censorship.

    • Scott Bicheno Scott Bicheno 31/01/2022 @ 3:59 pm

      You didn’t really answer your own question, mate, and instead set up a straw man around editorial responsibility. Who decides what is consensus? Who decides which non-consensus ideas are valid? What should the person we give that power to be able to do with it? What is trying to silence selected voices if not censorship?

  3. Avatar Whatever 31/01/2022 @ 6:25 pm

    Your article premise is ridiculous. Joe Rogan is not simply having conversations, he is giving this nonsense (PROVEN nonsense) a platform, and actively agrees with his guest. The result is people getting sick and/or dying.

    Rogan has stated that he took Ivermectin and got better from Covid – though science has stated repeatedly that it doesn’t help. The fact that he recovered had nothing to do with Ivermectin. Giving a platform to talk about something that has been debunked is reckless. You seem to like these conspiracy theories, though.

    • Scott Bicheno Scott Bicheno 01/02/2022 @ 9:15 am

      So should PROVEN nonsense be banned? If so by who? You seem to like censorship.

  4. Avatar Andy Tiller 31/01/2022 @ 6:43 pm

    Hi Scott, I’m saying that we should trust the scientific process to decide what is consensus, and help us understand the weight we should give to non-consensus views. The global scientific community agreeing on something means it’s not misinformation. A few scientists presenting an alternative view that goes against the vast majority of their global peers should not be given equal airtime or presented as a ‘valid alternative viewpoint’ – it may well be misinformation. I’m not saying that those alternative views should be censored, but I’m saying that Josh Rogan (and the media in general) should take responsibility for making it much clearer when they are presenting a controversial view, rather than just focusing on what makes a good story. In general, I think that’s what ‘the establishment’ is trying to do as best they can, but Rogan isn’t. Supporting ‘the establishment’ is not wrong if they are trying to do the right thing, as Neil Young and Joni Mitchell seem to have realised. (Just to be 100% clear, I’m on the side of science, not the establishment. And Neil Young did get his facts wrong about the Aztecs.)

    • Scott Bicheno Scott Bicheno 01/02/2022 @ 9:05 am

      You think the establishment’s motives are benign, I don’t. Which is misinformation?

  5. Avatar Wolf Vincent 31/01/2022 @ 7:18 pm

    I think Andy gave you a very clear answer, Scott. Science consensus decides, and the people coming up with contrarian opinions should be measured by the same Standards as science. Unfortunately that is often not the case and therefore opinions are getting prime air time, which took a few minutes to create, and are damaging knowledge that took months or years to create.

    Let me try it with a simple example: put a glass of water on a table standing on a tile floor. Creating such a glass is not a simple task. Then someone comes a along sweeps the glass off the table, shattering it into pieces and spilling the water all over the floor, claiming “that is how water is to be served properly”. Everyone listens and everyone applauds. People now stating that this is not ok and that you cannot drink water like that, are the ones who are called censors.

    Will it be your responsibility to make sure that all get the same prime time and the guy shattering the glass is asked to prove that he can drink water like that? I do think so. Take your pick.

    • Scott Bicheno Scott Bicheno 01/02/2022 @ 9:09 am

      All your odd example proves is that you don’t understand censorship. People can say what they want about a smashed glass of water. As for The Science, that is a constantly evolving thing that requires critiques and novel inputs to be effective. Great name though.

  6. Avatar Charles Potwage 31/01/2022 @ 11:58 pm

    I have seen too many doctors and nurses on television saying that their hospital is full of people who didn’t get the vaccine, and as a result they don’t have the resources needed to treat the usual flow of people with strokes or heart attacks.

    If these people making these claims are all frauds, or if they are really actors, then it is one amazing scam going on, something of unimaginable proportions that hasn’t been exposed yet.

    That’s all the consensus I need.

    • Scott Bicheno Scott Bicheno 01/02/2022 @ 9:10 am

      Need for what?

  7. Avatar Andy Tiller 01/02/2022 @ 9:42 am

    You’re right, Scott – science is constantly evolving as we learn more, but that doesn’t mean we should reject the current theories, or treat ‘bad science’ as equally valid. A current theory which is backed by the overwhelming majority of the global scientific community (with their diverse agendas and influences acting to mitigate political biases) is still the best guide we have today. Just because this opinion might evolve in future doesn’t mean that we should reject it today, at least until or unless we have evidence for an improved theory. That’s how science works, and that’s what leads to progress. I’m not in favour of censorship, but I am very much in favour of holding the media to account for responsible reporting of science.

    • Scott Bicheno Scott Bicheno 01/02/2022 @ 9:50 am

      As ever this is about the ideal compromise between two extreme positions. Of course we shouldn’t reject current theories but neither should we necessarily reject alternative ones. Framing is a problem across all media but, as I said in my piece, we never see establishment media accused of misinformation, even when they totally lose the plot as with Russiagate. If you’re in favour of critiquing and pushing back on speech you consider erroneous, but not outright censorship, then we’re in agreement.

  8. Avatar Andy Tiller 01/02/2022 @ 11:36 am

    Absolutely – establishment media should be held to the same standards as everyone else (the BBC is guilty of some dreadful science reporting and producing some very poor documentaries). I recommend Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science website [PS Not sure why “Reply” keeps starting a new thread]

    • Scott Bicheno Scott Bicheno 01/02/2022 @ 11:43 am

      Thanks. Yes that function seems to be broken – I’ll look into it. I reply through the back-end.

  9. Avatar Whatever 01/02/2022 @ 4:12 pm

    This is not censorship, this is stopping misinformation. This is not about stopping his conversations with people about opinions. This is a specific case – stopping information about Covid that is wrong from killing people.
    I don’t like censorship, but I also don’t like things that are proven false to continue to be spread. You are trying to say that Rogan is being censored in general, but this is a specific issue. So you are making this a bigger issue than it is.
    Also, this story says “news” but it’s your “opinion”. You’re supposed to report on Telecoms news, instead, you’re writing an opinion piece on your thoughts on what may or may not be censorship. You’re no more qualified to determine this than I am.

    • Scott Bicheno Scott Bicheno 01/02/2022 @ 4:17 pm

      I don’t think I need to respond. You’re doing a much better job of contradicting yourself than I ever could.

  10. Avatar Crazy Donkey 01/02/2022 @ 9:17 pm

    I have never seen anything written saying Neil Young’s action was a call for censorship. Neil’s, Jon’s & Nil’s action was in support of the coalition of scientists & medical professionals. I agree that the right to free speech and opinion uncensored is a key tenet of democracy but only to the point where an opinion causes harm and where it is proven unequivocally a untruth. Eg no one in their right mind would give white supremacists Nazis banging on about holocaust denial any airtime. There might be a couple of wacko historians that may say otherwise but the public, media and establishment have sided with the compelling historic evidence. Is that censorship of opinion? Or is that responsible media protecting the public from hatred, and proven falsehoods. Sorry Scott, as I’m not a virologists or medical professional I’ve got to side with those that are on this one.

    PS Love the podcast.

    • Scott Bicheno Scott Bicheno 02/02/2022 @ 9:01 am

      “I agree that the right to free speech and opinion uncensored is a key tenet of democracy but only to the point where an opinion causes harm and where it is proven unequivocally a untruth.” Who defines harm? Who defines untruth? Should every instance of that be censored? Is it currently? If not then why focus on Rogan?

  11. Avatar Cinnamon Girl 01/02/2022 @ 10:40 pm

    I agree with Scott. Let’s not get carried away and start thinking the establishment are there to protect scientific truths. Conservative MP Michael Gove exclaiming ‘We’ve had enough of experts’ comes to mind, referring to the vast majority of economists saying Britain would be worse off after removing itself from a trade deal with its biggest trading partner. Republicans in the US and many right wing governments dismissing overwhelming climate scientific consensus to pander to fossil fuel lobbyists and funding. Mandatory vaccines, even if they work and save lives, until recently unimaginable in a free and democratic world empowering governments to stifle debate and opposing views. It’s the mandatory needle and the damage done. And to the person who says Scott should get back to writing about telecoms news, content providers and platforms and regulations or lack of governing them is as integral to the future and advancement of telecoms as any new roll out of fibre or piece of kit. We’ll done Scott.

    • Scott Bicheno Scott Bicheno 02/02/2022 @ 9:08 am

      Thanks Cinnamon Girl (a Neil Young fan?). Everyone has an agenda, but only some are assumed to be benign. Presumably The Science is what led to the gain of function research that likely caused the pandemic, for example, and yet Rogan is the bad guy for talking to people with opinions that challenge The Science. Telling people to stay in their lane is a standard technique of those lacking an adequate counter-argument. Surely the amount of engagement in this story alone justifies us publishing it.

  12. Avatar Phil 02/02/2022 @ 11:08 pm

    It really is weird when folks say an entertainment program distributed exclusively on a paid service should be vetted for accuracy, offensiveness or, really, anything.

    re: “Who decides… ?”

    Spotify does, in this specific case.

    • Scott Bicheno Scott Bicheno 03/02/2022 @ 9:08 am

      Indeed. And Rogan. And his audience. If Spotify does kick him off then things could get really interesting because Rogan could decide to self-publish (being careful to avoid AWS, right?) and the majority of his vast audience would probably follow him. Then he would either be beyond the reach of the establishment or it would be forced to show its authoritarian hand to a whole new degree.

  13. Avatar Andy Tiller 03/02/2022 @ 3:27 pm

    I think we should just point out that ‘science’ (meaning the consensus view of the world’s scientific community) is not ‘the establishment’, which is why we can (and should) trust it.

    • Scott Bicheno Scott Bicheno 03/02/2022 @ 3:43 pm

      OK, if you insist. Define consensus. Who determines when consensus is reached? Has there ever been a time when the consensus has been wrong? If so why should we unconditionally trust it? What if The Consensus tells you to do something you don’t want to do – should you be forced? You never answer any of my questions and instead just make reductive majoritarian assertions. We know you trust The Consensus but not everyone does and you have made little attempt to convince the unenlightened.

  14. Avatar Whatever 03/02/2022 @ 9:04 pm

    I never said I liked censorship. But what if he brings on neo-nazis that talk about killing jews or non-white people (and agrees with them, or doesn’t disagree with them)? People who want to kill “vaxxers” (same)? People who want to incite a civil war (same)? How far do you take your anti-censorship stance?

    And who is “the establishment”? Sounds like a big bad boogie man for conspiracy theorists.

    • Scott Bicheno Scott Bicheno 04/02/2022 @ 9:04 am

      My anti-censorship stance is constrained by legality. The establishment is those in power and/or those who have some credentials and a few quid, which they think makes them superior.

  15. Avatar Mojo rojo 04/02/2022 @ 12:08 am

    Science does not mean the consensus view of the world’s scientific community. Many would say that “science” and “consensus” are if fact opposites, as you alluded to in your original comment.

    Also: how do you know what the consensus is, if information is filtered according to their perceived validity by the media?

    You have created an Orwellian closed loop: you must allow information which is distasteful to you circulate, if only to reaffirm that you have not jumped into the downward spiral of echo-chamber confirmation bias.

    The truth must be allowed to be challenged, or it cannot be called the truth.

    • Scott Bicheno Scott Bicheno 04/02/2022 @ 9:04 am


  16. Avatar Andy Tiller 04/02/2022 @ 11:12 am

    Hi Scott, here are my thoughts on your questions.
    Consensus is the majority view of the world’s scientific experts – if 1,000 scientists agree on their area of expertise and 5 disagree then we have consensus. But note that I’m talking about science specifically, not politics or morality.
    Who determines when consensus is reached? This is what the scientific peer review process is for. No individual decides and there is no single authority over all scientists worldwide, with their disparate influences and biases. This is why we can trust the scientific consensus more than we can trust governments, the media or other influencers.
    Has there ever been a time when the consensus has been wrong? Yes, of course, but the scientific consensus is much more often right – or at least on the right lines – which is why it’s a good basis for making decisions. It’s a post-modern myth that there is no such thing as objective truth. Some things are scientifically ‘proven’ to all intents and purposes by thousands of empirical observations which align with theory. Other consensus theories are less certain, but still much more likely to be right than wrong. Some are absolutely disproven, and should not be presented by the media as potentially valid.
    If so why should we unconditionally trust it? We shouldn’t – we should trust it ‘conditionally’.
    What if The Consensus tells you to do something you don’t want to do – should you be forced? No, but here we are straying beyond science. In my view, if the consensus view is that you should be vaccinated to protect society from the spread of infection as well as protecting yourself, then you should still have the right to say no. But if you are not willing to fulfil your civic responsibility to protect others, you should not expect to necessarily still keep all your civic rights (eg the right to go anywhere you like without a vaccination passport).
    Finally, it’s not quite correct to say that I trust “The Consensus”. It’s more accurate to say that I trust scientific consensus as the best guide to making decisions determined by interpretation of science. Not everyone does, of course. Some people probably believe that the world’s scientists are controlled by the Illuminati, but there’s not much you can say to those people.

    • Scott Bicheno Scott Bicheno 04/02/2022 @ 11:24 am

      Great answers that I mostly agree with. Complicated isn’t it? My position on censorship is that speech should be constrained only by law, not because it’s perfect but because it’s defined and (should) offer a level playing field. The alternatives include tyranny of the majority, about which I refer you to JS Mill, and arbitrary institutional gatekeeping, which is wide open to corruption, power grabs and perverse incentives. Hence Rogan should be uncensored and his bad speech should be countered by good speech.

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