News Update

Platform power struggles: Joe Rogan, Dan Bongino, banned books spur debate

Every day, there’s another tug-of-war over who gets heard and where and how, another power struggle over platforming. “The battle lines over truth and falsehood aren’t just cutting across the political sphere,” CNN Opinion managing editor Rich Galant wrote on Sunday, “they are dividing people in media, music and sports.”
Depending on your political affiliation and your partisan media preferences, you may care more about “Maus” being removed from a Tennessee school district or more about Dan Bongino being banned from YouTube. You may support Spotify for keeping Joe Rogan in place or you may side with the artists who have boycotted the service. Or you may not care much at all, and I’ll get to that in a minute. But first, some updates on all the “content wars” of the past few days:

Spotify’s solution?

Judging by the rushed nature of Spotify CEO Daniel Ek’s Sunday afternoon statement, Neil Young and Joni Mitchell and Nils Lofgren were not the only artists complaining about the platform’s stance on Covid-19 B.S. Or maybe Ek was trying to stop other producers from following Brené Brown’s lead and pausing her Spotify-exclusive podcast. Or maybe he was trying to stem a wave of customer cancellations. Maybe it was all of the above.
Ek’s announcement didn’t mention Rogan at all. But it said Spotify is “adding a content advisory to any podcast episode that includes discussion about Covid-19,” CNN’s Ramishah Maruf wrote. “The advisory will direct listeners to a Covid-19 hub that will include links to trusted sources, the company said. Spotify will also for the first time publicly post its long-standing Platform Rules.” (Those are the very loose rules that The Verge’s Ashley Carman obtained and published on Friday.) So, in short, Spotify is doing what platforms like Twitter did at the start of the pandemic. Recode’s Peter Kafka summed it up in three words: “Nothing is changing.”
But it has the appearance of change. So will it be enough? We’ll see. Ek sure came across like a CEO in damage control mode. He said the Covid hub “will roll out to countries around the world in the coming days,” so in other words, it hasn’t even been translated into multiple languages yet. The same is true for the platform rules. Spotify seems to be doing this in a hurry. The Verge EIC Nilay Patel tweeted that the company is running “the ‘content moderation is an impossible challenge’ playbook instead of the ‘we bought and distribute this media property’ playbook.” His point: Spotify is “spending $100 million to exclusively distribute” Rogan’s show and promote it across the platform, but is portraying itself like Facebook rather than a distributor…

Six Spotify notes

— Kara Swisher tweeted: Tech execs like Ek “want all the power and money and none of the responsibilities when things get dicey, as things always get…”
— Kat Rosenfield said on “Reliable Sources” that Rogan is “like a weed that sprang up outside the mainstream media ecosystem.” If Spotify removed him tomorrow, “it wouldn’t make a dent in his audience,” she argued. “People would still listen to him and, crucially, they still wouldn’t trust more mainstream media sources…”
— Renee DiResta tweeted a similar point about the Covid info hubs promoted by Spotify and other sites: “These things add information supply,” but “they don’t address the demand, or the entertainment element…”
— Kelly Weill observed that “so many US political conflicts are just proxy battles through customer service complaints,” meaning, “in a disempowered electorate, the only common sense of individual power is as a consumer who *will* be leaving an unfavorable Yelp review…”
— Just how big is this Spotify story? Well, the WSJ homepage has been leading with it all evening long…
Variety: The alt-rock band Belly “wants to delete its music from Spotify, but it’s contractually complicated — so the group wrote ‘Delete Spotify’ on their Spotify page…”

The big picture

Oliver Darcy writes: “Consider the fact that we are nearly six years from the 2016 election, when the issue of misinfo really surfaced in an unavoidable way, and some tech companies are still having incredibly difficult problems establishing basic protocols. A lot of the reporting about viral lies simply involves asking companies for their policies and then often why brazen violations aren’t enforced…”

“Book Ban Efforts Spread Across the U.S.”

That’s one of the top headlines on the New York Times website Sunday night. “Parents, activists, school board officials and lawmakers around the country are challenging books at a pace not seen in decades,” Elizabeth A. Harris and Alexandra Alter wrote.
Key stat: “The American Library Association said in a preliminary report that it received an ‘unprecedented’ 330 reports of book challenges, each of which can include multiple books, last fall.”
“Conservative groups in particular, fueled by social media, are now pushing the challenges,” and the “most frequent targets” include books about race, gender and sexuality, though “book challenges aren’t just coming from the right,” the reporters noted. Fox recently hyped a Washington state school district’s action against “To Kill a Mockingbird.” However, the network has not mentioned “Maus,” according to a TVEyes search. CNN and MSNBC have cited both books in recent coverage…

“Maus” hits #1 on Amazon

You’ve surely heard about the McMinn County, Tennessee school board voting to ban the Holocaust-themed graphic novel “Maus” from its classrooms. But did you know the vote happened way back on January 10? It only became national news when the vote “was reported by a local news outlet, The Tennessee Holler, on Wednesday,” as the NYT noted here.
Since then, copies of “Maus” have become a hot commodity. “Three different editions of the Pulitzer Prize-winning work are in the top seven of books on Amazon as of Sunday afternoon,” Slate’s Daniel Politi wrote. “The Complete Maus, which includes the two volumes of the novel, was number one on Amazon’s bestseller list. The first volume of the book was number three on the list, while the second was number seven.”

“They are creating a parallel economy”

That’s what Fox’s Dan Bongino, newly banned from YouTube and Google Ads, argued on his show Saturday night. Some studies have shown that deplatforming “works” in so far that it reduces toxicity on social networks. But the counterargument, advanced by Bongino, is that the offending content doesn’t disappear, it merely moves.
“You look so much younger now that you’re no longer on YouTube,” his guest Devin Nunes, CEO of Trump’s social media company, quipped. Then he predicted “millions of Americans” would leave Big Tech for platforms like Trump’s, which has yet to launch. “I think they’re doing this to themselves, these big tech companies,” Bongino said. “They are creating a parallel economy right under their noses, in a similar way the news ecosystem bifurcated in the 90s with the advent of Fox News.”

“Complicate the narrative”

My lead guest on Sunday’s “Reliable Sources” was Amanda Ripley, the author of “High Conflict,” an essential read about how to de-escalate existential “us versus them” disputes. Journalists should stop “simplifying and amplifying,” she said. Don’t become “conflict entrepreneurs.” Instead, try to “complicate the narrative.”
For example, highlight the stories of those who are making a positive difference. And show the context for conflicts in the news: “How many school boards are imploding in conflict,” out of how many overall? “How many electoral districts are restricting voting rights?” Watch the two clips on CNN.com…
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