Neil Young raises a question about disinformation: how far should platforms go?

Music legend Neil Young no longer wants to be heard through Spotify, the online service that gives users access to music and podcasts for a fee. In doing so, he is focusing the discussion about disinformation on online platforms, experts say to Nieuwsuur.

Young gave the streaming service Spotify the choice between his music, or the podcast of American presenter and comedian Joe Rogan (54). According to Young, Spotify has become โ€œhome to life-threatening misinformation about covidโ€ and โ€œlies are sold for money.โ€ Meanwhile, his music has been removed. The podcast was already contradicted more often, including after Rogan questioned the effect of vaccines. He also promoted a parasite medicine for the treatment of covid. It has since been proven that this remedy is ineffective.

The bigger question Young raises is what platforms should and shouldn‘t regulate, says Marleen Stikker, founder of research institute for creative technology and social innovation Waag. โ€œAre they about that themselves? Can such a platform regulate itself, or is it also necessary to do so, and enforce legislation? It’s actually weird asking artists themselves to put pressure on a company like Spotify.โ€

Not responsible

Since the early 90s, the sound of the online platforms has always been that they are neutral. According to their own say, they are not a publisher, and therefore not responsible for the content. The services are still using that argument. Also around Rogan‘s show, Spotify’s most popular podcast with over 11 million streams per episode.

Stikker: โ€œSpotify seems to be a neutral platform here again. But they‘ve counted millions, and signed an exclusive contract. If you do a viewing operation, for example at Facebook, you can see that it is mainly focused on the revenue model. The idea that platforms can regulate themselves and that it will be okay, has moved away from that.โ€

It is difficult to say what should and should not be barred. Especially around covid you shouldn’t listen to anything anymore, fears Stikker. She believes that platforms should be able to ban content if the misinformation is demonstrably harmful. โ€œSpotify doesn‘t have to figure that out for yourself. For example, you could submit it to a committee that makes the balance. That kind of professional opportunities do not exist with the platforms right now. There must be transparency, with clear procedures. And in the end, it must be able to submit to the court.โ€

Clearly defined guidelines

Major tech platforms are currently committing to a European code of conduct, but Spotify is not affiliated with that, says reporter Rudy Bouma. โ€œNot yet, because the Commissioner who is about combating disinformation wants to involve 20 new platforms. It’s obvious that Spotify will be there. And in addition, a week ago, the European Parliament, by a large majority, agreed to a law to curb Big Tech companies. But it‘s mainly about forcing transparency: about algorithms they use and about how they fight against hate speech and disinformation.

According to Bouma, other platforms have strict rules, for example, around covid disinformation. โ€œThere are also clearly defined guidelines for that. Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, in particular, remove anything that could be harmful to public health. Spotify has told the press that they are โ€œremoving false or dangerous misleading messages about covid, but it’s not in terms of use, or in their list of prohibited content.โ€

Platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have revolted audiences, with the advertisers in the wake. โ€œIn 2020, many major American advertisers boycotted Facebook. In their eyes, the platform acted too little against far-right groups calling for violence against Black Lives Matters supporters, following the death of George Floyd. Under that pressure, Facebook has thrown a notch on their moderation,โ€ says Bouma.

Neil Young is now calling on other artists to follow suit. Bouma: โ€œAs more artists follow, Spotify will be under further pressure. But do artists, who have become largely financially dependent on Spotify, want to go that far?โ€