What do Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, and a Portland-born media company for children have in common? They've all pulled their content from Spotify in the past week, amid a wave of backlash against the platform's support for Fear Factor host-turned-podcaster Joe Rogan.
In an Instagram post on Friday afternoon, A Kids Company About—which began as a publisher helmed by Portlander Jelani Memory and has grown to include a podcasting network and education wing—announced it would pull all nine of its podcasts from the popular audio platform. "Spotify has chosen to curate its exclusive content with podcasts that contain misinformation and bigotry, anti-Black remarks, and anti-LGBTQ viewpoints," the statement reads in part. "This does not align with our goals and values at A Kids Co, nor with the audio content we produce." The company's podcasts range in subject from kid-focused conversations on climate change, activism, and racism, to emotional vocabulary and mindfulness.
In the fall of 2020, Spotify inked a $100 million deal with Rogan that made his controversial, ultra-popular podcast, the Joe Rogan Experience, available exclusively on Spotify beginning January 2021. On December 31, 2021, Rogan released an episode with Dr. Robert Malone, a physician whom Twitter has permanently barred for regularly peddling misinformation about COVID-19.
Days later, nearly 300 medical experts signed an open letter urging Spotify to establish its own hard rules about misinformation, citing the episode, and this planted the seeds for a mass exodus. Neil Young left first, on January 26, then Joni Mitchell, and a slew of smaller acts have followed suit. Objections have progressed beyond COVID-19 misinformation, but remain largely rooted in Spotify's deal with Rogan.
"Spotify and a lot of other podcast hosts are in this weird new world. They are podcast hosting platforms, but now they're also curating content, and when you do that, you put your values on display with what shows you're keeping as your original shows," says Matthew Winner, head of audio at A Kids Company About. "This is not to say that I have any problem with the shows in particular that they're curating, it's more to say that our content and the work that we're doing for children—trying to provide a safe space to have conversations about what's going on in the world and who they are—doesn't feel in line with Spotify's curated content."
Winner says A Kids Company About began internal conversations about leaving Spotify after Young and Mitchell's decisions made the news. He'd consider returning if Spotify changed its affiliations (which looks unlikely at this stage), and says that, should other platforms "not manage their content responsibly, or consider their audience responsibly," he'd consider pulling A Kids Podcast About shows from them as well.
One interesting tidbit from Winner's experience: he was not prompted by Spotify to give a detailed reason for removing A Kids Company's shows from the platform. "I happen to be a person that has no problem at all in explaining the reasons I choose to do things, or in this case, our company chooses to do things," he says. "So I hope that, however they're able to gather that information, Spotify is able to gather it from the folks that are choosing to move their content elsewhere, so they can use that to inform their decisions moving forward."
Winner acknowledges that Spotify is likely not sweating this specific departure, but says it's less about the audio giant and more about A Kids Co's audience: "Standing up for the kids we're making these podcasts for is much more important than any number of downloads we could get from any one podcast platform."