Spotify lost $4 billion in market value this week after rock icon Neil Young called out the company for allowing comedian Joe Rogan to use its service to spread misinformation about the COVID vaccine on his popular podcast, “The Joe Rogan Experience.”
At the end of the day Friday, Jan. 28, shares of Spotify were down about 12% from where they closed last week, according to data from a broader index that was flat over the same period. The hashtags #DeleteSpotify and #CancelSpotify also gained traction on social media, with many websites offering step-by-step instructions for users to remove the app from their devices.
The controversy erupted after Rogan featured Dr. Robert Malone on his podcast last month. Malone has been banned from Twitter for spreading misinformation, but has become a hero in the anti-vaccine community for falsely suggesting that millions of people had been hypnotized into believing that the vaccines work to prevent serious disease.
“Spotify has recently become a very damaging force via its public misinformation and lies about COVID,” Young wrote in a letter posted on his website Wednesday. “Most of the listeners hearing the unfactual, misleading and false COVID information on Spotify are 24 years old, impressionable and easy to swing to the wrong side of the truth.”
A group of doctors and scientists have circulated a petition online calling on Spotify to adopt policies to prevent the spread of misinformation on their platform.
Spotify said in a statement last week that it had removed more than 20,000 podcast episodes related to COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic. But so far the company has stood by Rogan, who was reportedly paid more than $100 million by the service in exchange for the exclusive rights to his podcast.
Rogan attracts 11 million users per episode, while Young brings in 6 million users per month.
In a follow-up letter posted to his website on Friday, Young clarified that the point of his protest was not to censor the podcast host.
“I support free speech. I have never been in favor of censorship. Private companies have the right to choose what they profit from, just as I can choose not to have my music support a platform that disseminates harmful information,” Young said. “I am happy and proud to stand in solidarity with the front line health care worker who risk their lives every day to help others.”
He added that his music was still available to stream on Amazon, Apple Music and Qobuz — with better sound quality.
“As an unexpected bonus, I sound better everywhere else,” Young said.
Before moving to the Malibu hills home owned by his wife, actress Daryl Hannah, in 2014, Young lived on a ranch in Woodside in the Santa Cruz Mountains for nearly four decades.
For more than 30 years, he and his late wife Pegi hosted the all-star acoustic Bridge School benefit concerts at Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View, featuring performances by stars such as Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, David Bowie, Brian Wilson, Tracy Chapman, Bruce Springsteen, Norah Jones, Metallica, Elvis Costello and others.
The concerts benefited the school he co-founded to help children with severe speech and physical impairments, including his son Ben, who is a quadriplegic with cerebral palsy who is unable to speak. His son Zeke also has cerebral palsy.