Spotify's policies are expressly designed to encourage deadly disinformation about COVID-19

Spotify's policies are expressly designed to encourage deadly disinformation about COVID-19
Joe Rogan, screengrab

From the beginning of the pandemic, Spotify has been a go-to site for false statements about the threat represented by COVID-19, the steps to take in fighting the spread of disease, and the effectiveness of vaccines. All the while, the streaming service has responded to complaints about the propagation of not just misinformation, but deliberate disinformation, with claims that they have a “consistent policy” designed to help. But a look at those policies shows that they’re not designed to halt the spread of disinformation. Spotify’s policies are designed to protect and encourage lies, rather than lives.

“We have detailed content policies in place,” says a repeatedly published statement from the company. They also claim to have “removed over 20,000 podcast episodes related to COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic.” But what those policies actually might be, Spotify refused to make public. In fact, the actual details of this policy seemed invisible, even to the service’s content providers.

In the last few weeks, the pressure on Spotify to address this issue has increased, as rock legends Neil Young and Joni Mitchell have protested having their music on the same service that carries such constant agents of disinformation as podcaster Joe Rogan. Now tech and entertainment site The Verge has gotten a look at Spotify’s actual policies. And what they found is a system expressly designed to leave holes large enough to drive truckloads of horse-dewormer through.

The Verge obtained screenshots from an internal conversation with Spotify’s head of global communications and public relations Dustee Jenkins. From those screenshots, these are Spotify’s actual COVID-related policies. Spotify says it doesn’t allow content that “promotes dangerous false or deceptive content” which it defines using the following terms:

  • Denying the existence of AIDS or COVID-19
  • Encouraging the deliberate contracting of a serious or life threatening disease or illness
  • Suggesting that consuming bleach can cure various illnesses and diseases
  • Suggesting that wearing a mask will cause the wearer imminent, life-threatening physical harm
  • Promoting or suggesting that the vaccines are designed to cause death

What’s amazing is that every one of these policies is worded to allow, if not outright encourage, a wide range of lies. And they are all designed to weave around, rather than block, the most harmful disinformation about COVID-19.

For example, under the first policy it may be not permissible to say that COVID-19 doesn’t exist, but it would be perfectly okay to say that it’s a disease that has killed almost 900,000 Americans is really “no worse than flu.” It would even be okay to say that COVID-19 hasn’t actually caused any of those deaths.

The second policy would seem to condemn content that encourages COVID-parties. However, it leaves the door wide open for suggestions for every possible variation on “natural immunity” and various attempts to reach herd immunity by refusing to engage in any steps designed to slow the spread of disease.

The third policy specifically calls out bleach, but doesn’t make any kind of broader definition of unsafe, harmful, or simply ineffective treatments. Under this rule, Spotify content can encourage the use of colloidal silver, hydroxychloroquine, ivermectin, miracle oil, miracle dirt, and a host of other “treatments” that at best don’t work, and at worst, are actively harmful. And all of the above have been recommended on Spotify programs.

The fourth policy is a perfect example of how to apply enough adjectives to make a rule worthless. Under this policy, Spotify content can’t say “if you wear a mask, you’ll die immediately,” but could still say “masks kill more people than COVID-19,” because that doesn’t include a claim that the threat is “imminent.” Claims could also be made that masks cause any kind of mental health issue, because that’s not a “physical” threat. Or that masks cause debilitating illness, so long as it’s not “life threatening.”

The final rule opens the same kind of holes for discussing vaccines. Spotify providers can still make claims like vaccines cause sterility, or that vaccines contain aborted fetal cells, or even that vaccines have killed more people than the disease. All those are perfectly fine, so long as they don’t say that the vaccine was designed for that purpose. Oh, and the policy also leaves plenty of room for saying that the vaccines mutate your DNA, include nanotechnology, or are the creation of a secret Jewish cabal.

These aren’t policies designed to stop COVID-19 misinformation. Every one of these policies could have been simpler, more direct, more easily enforced, and much more effective in ending deadly lies. The way that Spotify has formed these policies shows the extent to which they have gone out of their way to preserve and promote false claims about the pandemic.

These are policies designed to encourage disinformation. They’ve all been made in ways that carefully skirt around the real issues, creating a pretense of taking action while actually providing a screen of protection for propagandists who are doing widespread, physical harm. People are going to their graves citing disinformation propagated by Joe Rogan and other Spotify podcasts.

And Spotify is taking extraordinary steps to make that possible.

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