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Protesting Joe Rogan is not censorship

It should be obvious, but: Neil Young and Joni Mitchell’s decision to remove their content from Spotify to protest Joe Rogan’s ongoing covid disinformation is not censorship under the First Amendment or any other measure.

The First Amendment protects us from government censorship. It does not guarantee freedom from content filtering by any other entity. Spotify is not the government. A school board banning books about the Holocaust is a First Amendment issue; musicians threatening to leave a private service because of the content it hosts on one of its shows is not.

Every artist has the right to choose who and what their work is associated with. Spotify is, in effect, a private marketplace (albeit for attention). It’s completely reasonable for an artist to remove their goods from a marketplace because they don’t want to be associated with other goods made available there.

Young said exactly this in a statement on Friday:

“I support free speech. I have never been in favor of censorship. Private companies have the right to choose what they profit from, just as I can choose not to have my music support a platform that disseminates harmful information. I am happy and proud to stand in solidarity with the front line health care workers who risk their lives every day to help others.”

We all have a similar right to do what we want with our attention and our subscription dollars. If we enjoy Joe Rogan, great: we can choose to continue subscribing to Spotify. If we don’t, and consider the company’s support of misinformation that leads to unnecessary deaths to be immoral, we may wish to consider spending our money elsewhere.

If Spotify was to decide that it no longer wants to spread lies that kill people to bolster its profits, it still wouldn’t be a free speech issue. Rogan is free to keep publishing his work on the web and doubtless would find another avenue. The government is not telling him he can’t be heard, and most of his audience would likely follow him anywhere.

Activism and boycotts are a perfectly reasonable part of democratic society. You could argue that they’re a necessary part of a free market: businesses and customers have the right to make these decisions. To equate not wanting to financially support a toxic talk show with censorship is disingenuous at best.

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