Young, Rogan and Spotify

As is now widely known, music artist Neil Young presented music streaming service Spotify with an ultimate last week. In a letter addressed to his record label, Young criticized Spotify for spreading dangerous misinformation about COVID through the popular Joe Rogan Experience podcast. Young stated that Spotify can either publish Rogan content or his, but not both. Spotify removed Young’s music.

Rogan supporters, most of whom also purport to be free speech advocates, attacked Young specifically and “cancel culture” broadly.

This controversy is not a First Amendment issue. The First Amendment prohibits the government from passing laws limiting speech, subject to numerous exceptions. The government is not involved in this situation. This controversy is not even, as Rogan’s defenders assert, about censorship. Through his podcast, Rogan expressed his opinion, or at least the opinions of guests he interviewed, about COVID vaccines. Young expressed disagreement with speech of his own.

In response, Spotify, which charges users a monthly subscription fee, decided to continue to share Rogan’s podcasts about Covid-19 and remove Young’s music. Considering over 11 million Spotify customers subscribe to Rogan’s show, this appears to be a practical decision by Spotify. If Spotify later decides to remove some or all of the Rogan content Young complained about, its decision will presumably be heavily influenced by subscriber reaction to the situation.

The angry allegations of censorship from Rogan supporters, and the responsive ad hominin attacks on Rogan, on social media are evidence of a country (further) divided by COVID. Cloaking the dispute as primarily about censorship is misleading.