Last week, artist Neil Young made a daring move when he requested that his music be pulled from the streaming giant Spotify. This move was then echoed by Canadian singer Joni Mitchell, as well as other artists like Nils Lofgren and Brené Brown. 

Why, you may ask, would artists stage a boycott of a streaming service that has over 406 million users? Wouldn’t they know the implications the move would have on their careers? Well, I’ll give you a hint — their decision wasn’t because of the lack of royalty rights. Seventy per cent of Spotify’s total revenue goes to artist royalties. Instead, the move was made in solidarity with a cause.  

More than 270 scientists, physicians, professors, doctors, and healthcare workers signed an open letter in January expressing concern about the “false and societally harmful assertions” made in the highly popular podcast The Joe Rogan Experience, whose rights Spotify recently purchased for $100 million in one of the largest licensing agreements in the podcasting industry. As you’d expect, this podcast is hosted by Joe Rogan, who was formerly a UFC commentator and the host of the American stunt show, Fear Factor.  

It was the most-listened-to podcast of 2021 — but recently, it has also become one of the most controversial. This is because many have accused Rogan of spreading misinformation about the pandemic through his podcast. On the show, he’s given air time to guests such as vaccine scientist Robert Malone, who’s been banned from Twitter for spreading false information about COVID-19 vaccines.

Since the boycott, Spotify CEO Daniel Ek promised to add a content warning to any podcast episode that includes discussion about COVID-19. The advisory will lead to a COVID-19 hub that Ek stated “will include links to trusted sources.”

Who cares if a few dissatisfied artists pull out of the company, you ask? Well, the boycotts have hit an important nerve for Spotify — the monetary one. In January, as a result of the controversy, Spotify’s stocks fell by 18 per cent.

As we watch this controversy unravel, we have to pay attention to the lessons it can teach us. With the rise of technology has also come the democratization of information, which means that previously dismissed voices are now able to have a platform. Public discourse has more room for diverse perspectives including those of people with disabilities, people of colour, and people in the LGBTQ+ community. But at the same time, by the same means, viewpoints that generate controversy or that are generally considered fringe have also been able to gain a platform. 

While I respect people’s right to freely express themselves, I believe that creators with large platforms have the responsibility to advertise the truth. This Spotify controversy emphasizes the need to balance freedom of speech with the responsibility to avoid inciting the broader public many of whom may be uninformed to make grossly misinformed decisions. 

There are understandable reasons why some artists may choose not to get involved in issues beyond the scope of their work. However, I believe that these boycotts were completely justified. Artists have fans who pay subscriptions to Spotify. The company needs to give these fans, and the rest of the public, the correct information they need to make well-informed decisions. 

No matter its ultimate outcome, it’s clear that this controversy has roots that go further than the COVID-19 pandemic. Not only does the Spotify boycott movement advocate for streaming services to verify the information they share, it is also trying to set a precedent — a precedent that will ensure that major corporations put their personal and economic interests into perspective and prioritize the benefit of the public.