On Sunday, Spotify's CEO, Daniel Ek, published a blog post responding to the controversy facing the streaming service's most high-profile podcaster, Joe Rogan. After a group of medical professionals published an open letter asking the company to take action against vaccine misinformation shared on Rogan's podcast, musician Neil Young removed all of his music from the streaming giant. 

That was followed by a similar request from Joni Mitchell. Both Young and Mitchell explained that they weren't comfortable having their music on a platform that promotes the spread of Covid-19 misinformation. By the end of the week, more than $2 billion had been erased from Spotify's market cap, extending a slide over the past year.

Then, over the weekend, researcher and best-selling author Brené Brown informed her audience that she would no longer publish new episodes of her two podcasts, both of which are Spotify exclusives. Brown didn't specifically refer to Rogan or the current controversy.

In the  blog post, Ek said that Spotify hasn't been "transparent around the policies that guide our content more broadly." Notably, Ek did not mention Rogan or his podcast:

Based on the feedback over the last several weeks, it's 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 guiding us through this unprecedented time. These issues are incredibly complex. We've heard you--especially those from the medical and scientific communities--and are taking the following steps.

According to Ek, those steps include publishing the rules around what content is allowed, as well as when and how the platform will remove content that violates those rules. 

The blog post also said that Spotify will now add a "content advisory to any podcast episode that includes a discussion about Covid-19." According to Ek, that will include a link to a dedicated hub that will provide "data-driven facts, up-to-date information as shared by scientists, physicians, academics, and public health authorities around the world, as well as links to trusted sources."

It's certainly a good thing that Spotify released its platform rules. The thing is, people aren't asking Spotify to direct people toward accurate information. They're asking Spotify to stop giving a platform to the people spreading misinformation--especially when it has the potential to do real-world harm to the people who listen to it. 

That's the real issue, and Ek's response completely misses that point. Spotify isn't just a platform that people can use to distribute their content. Sure, anyone can make a podcast and, if you add it to Spotify, anyone else can use its app to listen to your content. There are millions of people who do just that. In some cases, that content violates Spotify's guidelines, and the company says it will remove that content, or--in the most egregious cases--remove the podcast altogether. 

The problem is, Rogan isn't someone who just makes his podcast available on Spotify. He and his 11 million average listeners are the linchpin of the company's strategy to pivot to podcasts, and Spotify paid him $100 million to be the exclusive place where you can listen to him. He is arguably the most high-profile podcaster on the planet and is certainly the most visible face of Spotify. 

And yet Ek didn't even mention his name. He completely avoided referring to the actual controversy, and instead described the outcry over his content as "feedback." I don't think the medical professionals who asked the company to take action had "advisory labels" in mind. Spotify's guidelines seem to be carefully crafted to do the opposite--to avoid having to take action against Rogan.

Besides, if Twitter and Facebook are any indications, labels don't even work. The people who consume misinformation online aren't persuaded that they might be reading or listening to something harmful. On the contrary, warning labels often serve only to reinforce deeply held beliefs, even when they're wrong. If you believe a conspiracy theory, any information to the contrary simply serves to prove that there's a conspiracy against whatever you happen to think is the "truth." 

By the way, this isn't about free speech. Freedom of speech doesn't guarantee that people are allowed to say what they want on a private platform. It only means the government can't punish you for what you say. Spotify is free to make whatever rules it thinks are in the best interest of its business. That includes telling Rogan to quit inviting people who spread harmful information on his show. 

I'm not generally a fan of tech companies as the arbiters of what people get to share, but the reality is that any decision Spotify makes puts it in that position. The reason it won't is that Rogan would likely just buy out the rest of his contract and go back on his own. In the process, he'd be able to point at Spotify and say that it's trying to silence him as he's just asking questions. He'd become a hero to his audience and Spotify would lose.

What Ek and Spotify seem to overlook is that the company is losing either way. It will either lose Rogan and his audience (and probably its podcast-world-domination dreams), or it loses its credibility. In this case, it seems clear that the company thinks the tradeoff of keeping Rogan is worth far more than what it might cost the company in terms of its reputation.