Rock legend Neil Young’s exit from audio streaming platform Spotify’s playlists, in protest of questionable COVID-19-related information discussed on podcaster Joe Rogan’s show, cost the company over $2 billion in market losses last week.
And other artists have followed Young in taking a stand against the content, including folk singer Joni Mitchell who said she was standing in solidarity and also asked for her music to be removed. So did Nils Lofgren, a guitarist who plays in one of Young’s backing bands, Crazy Horse, and also with Bruce Springsteen. Author/podcaster Brené Brown also said she was halting new podcasts without saying exactly why.
Some Spotify listeners joined the pushback and took to social media last week, reporting issues connecting with the streamer’s customer service department as they attempted to cancel subscriptions. And #DeleteSpotify was trending on social media platforms last Friday.
Young’s protest came after dozens of doctors and scientists wrote an open letter to Spotify, complaining about Rogan’s decision to have a podcast discussion with Dr. Robert Malone, an infectious disease specialist who has been banned from Twitter for spreading misinformation on COVID-19. Malone has become a hero in the anti-vaccination community.
Saying Spotify was complicit in spreading misinformation, Young told the company that it could have his music or Rogan’s podcast — “not both.” Spotify agreed to remove Young’s music from the service and it was taken down last Wednesday.
But the business harm from the Young-Rogan spat, which Spotify attempted to address over the weekend by updating its content policy, seems to have been short-lived. And that appears to be part of an ongoing trend of failed attempts at boycotting big tech companies to compel changes to policy and/or conduct.
Spotify stock hit its lowest value in over a year and a half last Friday, dipping to just over $165 per share, after the 76-year-old Young demanded that the company take action against Rogan or say goodbye to his expansive and popular catalog of music hits that date back to the early ’60s.
Yet, Spotify’s stock jumped over 13% on Monday and continued to rise on Tuesday, closing the regular trading day at over $203 per share exceeding the stock’s $195 pricing on the Friday before Young issued his missive.
Following Young’s departure, the company announced that it would add a warning before all podcasts that discuss COVID-19, directing listeners to factual information on the pandemic from scientists and public health experts. It did not discuss Rogan specifically.
Spotify has shown more transparency in the past few days than it ever has about how it deals with questionable content, and the new policy is a good first step, says John Wihbey, a Northeastern University professor and specialist in emerging technologies.
Yet it’s not clear that anyone has effectively dealt with the issue of misinformation spread through podcasts, Wihbey says. Will Rogan’s audience actually listen to an advisory and then hunt down other COVID-19 information?
“This could be just window dressing,” he says.
Additional artists, and Spotify subscribers, could still join in turning their backs on the company — the worlds biggest music streaming service with twice the audience of its nearest competitor, Apple Music — and potentially elevate impacts on the company’s bottom line. But the recent record of boycotts leading to meaningful changes by targeted tech companies isn’t a tale of victories.
In a Tuesday report, Axios outlined a history of actions aiming to alter the corporate behavior of other U.S. tech behemoths and the resultant, and underwhelming, outcomes:
- Facebook’s boycott by major advertisers in June 2020 earned a lot of press attention, but it barely impacted the tech giant’s revenue, and most advertisers returned to the platform after a month. The public and the media, according to Google trends data, quickly moved on.
- YouTube faced a serious advertiser boycott in 2017, but months later said that most advertisers had returned to the company. The company’s ad business continues to balloon, in part because — like Facebook — it’s not reliant on blue-chip advertisers for the majority of its revenue. (Mainstream brands usually face the most pressure to boycott tech firms in the wake of scandal.)
- Netflix saw a brief spike in subscription cancellations following backlash to the debut of a French film called “Cuties,” but the following quarter, Netflix’s subscriber additions spiked again.
- Amazon was the target of a viral pro-labor boycott campaign timed to a union push in Bessemer, Alabama. The labor union teaming up with the Alabama workers said it was not involved in the boycott call, and many argued the effort was counterproductive. In the month following the campaign — and the voted-down union drive (since ordered to be redone) — Amazon stock jumped 33%.
Contributing: Associated Press