by Jarryd Bartle
Tuesday, 1
February 2022
Idea
16:00

The Spotify boycott is a case study in consumer politics

A new form of online activism is all about the urge to censor
by Jarryd Bartle

This week saw the rise of an online campaign attempting to boycott the streaming service Spotify over its partnership with Joe Rogan. The podcaster has been accused of spreading misinformation on his show about Covid-19 vaccines.

Reading through #BoycottSpotify and related hashtags, on the surface the justification for the movement comes in the form of moral condemnation of Rogan. He is, supposedly, endangering lives during a pandemic with his choice of guests. But really it has less to do with Rogan being a threat to public health and more to do with the perverse incentives of consumer politics in our age of social media.

Ethical consumption as a political strategy has been around for some time, whether its choosing free-range eggs or paying extra for your Starbucks coffee to donate to a starving child. Philosopher Slavoj Žižek has called these kinds of political actions the “ultimate form of consumerism”. They allow people to purchase some virtue while persisting with their frivolous, often harmful, hedonistic habits:

You pay a little bit more and you’re not just a consumerist but also do your duty towards the environment, the poor, starving people in Africa and so on and so on
- Slavoj Žižek

Once the transaction is done, you’ve undertaken your role as a good consumer, so you can feel satisfied that you’ve “done your part” to better the world.

The Spotify boycott is a neat example of this dynamic of consumer politics. You see a complicated issue (vaccine hesitancy rates across the world) reduced to one cause (“misinformation”) attached to a single source (Joe Rogan) and solved through a single transaction (boycott Spotify).

Feeling blindly self-satisfied in their ethical act, this may explain why some #BoycottSpotify participants are posting screenshots of their move to rival companies such as Apple and Amazon, companies which have far more ethically questionable histories than Spotify. What’s actually crucial for the the boycotting class is not that they are doing something, but that they are seen to be doing something.

Social theorists Hans-Georg Moeller and Paul J. D’Ambrosio argue that being perceived as ethical is key to modern social identities based around attention, acclaim and approval — what they call “profilicity”. Today we are incentivised to cultivate a public profile demonstrating that we are socially and politically aware:

Profilicity unabashedly displays expressed concern … in, for example, the use of hashtags, memes, Instagram hotspots and other forms of reposting. Profilicity both discovers and makes a place for a persona in a newly constructed ‘virtual’ space that does not necessarily require corporeal space.
- Hans-Georg Moeller and Paul J. D’Ambrosio

#BoycottSpotify is ultimately a sign of our times, where building a public presence as an ethical consumer is more important than grappling with complex issues of public health and freedom of expression. It’s the latest example of a new form of online activism, a dizzying show without much substance but with a powerful instinct to censor.

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Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
6 months ago

The internet has given a forum to the worst kind of moral busybodies. Humorless, joyless, puritanical – they rage against anything they can’t understand or control and, in doing so, are creating a world similar to Cromwell’s England in the mid-1600s. Back then singing, dancing, and even Christmas were banned in case they offended God. Now it’s the Other they’re afraid of offending.

Snake Oil Cat
Snake Oil Cat
6 months ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

In the internet age, singing, dancing and Christmas were banned because they offended Boris.

Laura Creighton
Laura Creighton
6 months ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

At least Cromwell, who in his letter to the general assembly of the Church of Scotland (3 August 1650) wrote:
I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken.
could conceive of being wrong about something. I don’t see this sense in the internet busybodies. Indeed, ‘I cannot be wrong, therefore this thing that disagrees with me must be misinformation’ seems the overreaching argument.
I find it interesting that their approbrium is focused on the content, i.e. ‘this is misinformation’ and not the intent i.e. ‘this person is a liar, who is deliberately trying to deceive you’.

JR Stoker
JR Stoker
6 months ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

Poor Cromwell, to be put alongside these third rate dumb celebs

Wilfred Davis
Wilfred Davis
6 months ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

I wholly agree with you about these humourless, joyless busybodies (“Yeah, we live in a post-joke world” – Woke high school student in a ‘sensitivity mob’ on Family Guy).

But, please, don’t pin this on the Puritans. They were in reality much more cheerful and easy-going than they have been painted.

Claire D
Claire D
6 months ago

It seems to me there are several layers of meaning regarding this business as well as the article’s.
Superficially – a rock star, upset by stuff said by someone on the same media platform as him, goes off in a huff.
The present prevalent demand/expectation of some people, sometimes called ‘woke’, that some other people must be silenced at all costs because their views are hurtful, damaging and dangerous. (When this is examined objectively with a cool head this is never the case.)
One group of people want all the power and they want to be able to wield that power absolutely and totally.
There’s another layer, I don’t know where to put it in terms of importance, but I think it is relevant. Joe Rogan, to some extent, symbolises the ordinary man, blokishness, quite raw masculinity, and as with Jordan Peterson in a more sophisticated version, many people cannot stand how popular and successful he is, they want to bring him down any way they can.
That’s my analysis anyway.
I wish he had’nt apologised.

Last edited 6 months ago by Claire D
michael stanwick
michael stanwick
6 months ago
Reply to  Claire D

Many people cannot stand how popular and successful he is…
Yes. Particularly the success as measured in financial reward. I mentioned above that the singer India Arie has signalled she is removing her content from Spotify. But apart from how Rogan talked about race, she was upset at the pay structure between podcast creators and music artists. Perhaps another layer to this fracas?

Matt Hindman
Matt Hindman
6 months ago

“A new form of online activism is all about the urge to censor.”
New? Where have you been for the last eight years?

Kiat Huang
Kiat Huang
6 months ago

The description of that singular chain in the article issue-cause-source-transaction brilliantly demonstrates why such campaigns can spread so virally. It’s the simplicity of the presented connection that is easy for the average dumb **** to understand and execute. It is an attractive virtue bullet for their social media weapon – and it is just so easy to pull that trigger.

Cancellation culture seems to have grown like bad mould, hand-in-hand with a sub-culture of intolerance. I argue it’s that hierarchy, because it is the smaller set of easily offended who try to get everyone else, including companies and institutions, (the cancellers) to try and eradicate their victim.

In the aftermath of #MeToo there was a growing sense to #BeKind. It meant something.

Well trying to cancel someone: to get them fired, blacklisted, dropped, isolated, humbled, humiliated, eviscerated or impoverished – is about as far from being kind as you can get.

Last edited 6 months ago by Kiat Huang
Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
6 months ago

“modern social identities based around attention, acclaim and approval — what they call “profilicity”.”

I thought the word meant fecundity and growth. Can one just hijack a word like that? To mean some social media thing?

It is wild watching this Lefty ‘Cultural Revolution’ pick up momentum, – again the attack against the 4 Olds… as history repeats…

“…time as struggles against the Four Olds (i.e., old ideas, customs, culture, and habits of mind), and the movement quickly escalated to committing outrages. Many elderly people and intellectuals were physically abused, and many died. Nonetheless, Mao believed that this mobilization of urban youths would be beneficial for them and…”

Actually millions died from the abuses of the youthful ‘Red Guards during Mao’s Cultural Revolution – and all the intellectuals and traditionalists sent to back breaking labour in the fields.

With this brutality against the Olds were the infamous ‘Struggle Sessions’ where anyone not a blind automaton of the system would be made to stand before the group and tell of all the crimes, and thoughts, one had committed against the Communist collective. Truth was not required, just self denunciation. One must claim some counter Communist sins, so that one could be shamed, shouted at, and made to be afraid, and possibly punished. The level of Purity required was too high for any to achieve – so All must carry guilt, but some more guilty than others..

Again, history circling, CRT, Woke, the mob denouncing, and then one made to a Struggle Session, and then hopefully to rejoin the initiates after a good bout of self denunciation and flagellation.

I see the Pu**y Rogan did his duty and apologized for any misinformation, disinformation, and wrongness….It is a very successful system.

Laura Creighton
Laura Creighton
6 months ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

This is what you get when you raise 2 generations of children to believe that what they need is to be loved rather than to be respected. It is precisely when you have to choose between the two that it is necessary to go for respect. And they don’t understand this. As a result that threat of ‘or I won’t like you any more’ which people of my age got over fearing in early childhood is a spector that keeps hanging over these people’s lives, as far as I can tell, forever.

Alex Stonor
Alex Stonor
6 months ago

Sticks and stones, words aren’t supposed to hurt.

Dustshoe Richinrut
Dustshoe Richinrut
6 months ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

Are you thinking of the word, prolific?

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
6 months ago

god knows what I am ever thinking – but as I cannot spell at all – anything is possible.

Wilfred Davis
Wilfred Davis
6 months ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

Whether or not you can spell (and I think you can), when are you going to write the book of your life on the road? I think there would be more of interest and truth about human nature and society in that than in most of the junk in the media.

Isabela Fairclough
Isabela Fairclough
6 months ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

You mean ‘prolific’, ‘prolificity’. His words are ‘profile’ ‘profilicity’…

Christopher Barclay
Christopher Barclay
6 months ago

Neil Young has sold the rights to his music for $150m. He is losing very little in leaving Spotify relative to this huge amount of money.

Fran Martinez
Fran Martinez
6 months ago

I just renew my Spotify account. Joe Rogan is a hero. And to become that all he had to do was to be honest and authentic.

Ann Roberts
Ann Roberts
6 months ago

I was disappointed that Harry and Meghan joined in. Did they watch the episodes in question? The Legacy media is dying and people like Rogan are signposting to the future of communicaitons. I have come across a number of young people’s podcasts that are amazing and lively. Thye are really perceptive about what is happening.

michael stanwick
michael stanwick
6 months ago

Another ‘artist’ has popped up to remove their content. India Arie. However, as well as citing Rogan’s views she mentioned another gripe – to her detriment, the disparity in financial compensation between Rogan as a podcaster and her as a singer. Perhaps this is another motivation for the performative signalling by some of those who have left?

Christopher Barclay
Christopher Barclay
6 months ago

My guess is that more people will have joined Spotify and searched for Rogan’s podcasts due to the boycott than will have closed their subscriptions. Most people will spend their money on what entertains them.

Peter Lee
Peter Lee
6 months ago

I find it interesting that there has been zero discussion on whether the interview in question was actually misinformation. Here we have the inventor of the mRNA vaccine being villified for the vaccine he created. Or is this irrelevant.

Roger Inkpen
Roger Inkpen
6 months ago
Reply to  Peter Lee

He didn’t create ‘the vaccine’ though, did he? He was involved with early research into similar vaccines several decades ago.
Perhaps he would be useful to explain the basics of how such treatment works, but no reason for him to know how effective Covid vaccines are.
It’s like asking Orville Wright to explain how a jumbo jet works!

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
6 months ago
Reply to  Roger Inkpen

The principles of lift are the same and below the speed of sound, much of the aerodynamics are similar.

Ann Roberts
Ann Roberts
6 months ago
Reply to  Roger Inkpen

I thinss there is so much more to Dr Malone’s expertise than just being the originator and patent holder. He has been at the heart of vaccine research for years, he oversaw clinical studies. He spoke out when the ethical research was blatantly being sidestepped.

Ian Moore
Ian Moore
6 months ago

If anybody questions why the various covid/wealth tranfer/ruling elite conspiracy theories are impossible (on the basis of there being no way for those accused of perpetrating actions creating said conspiracies) they just need to look at things like this. It is very easy to create a virtual mob these days and have people unwittingly support a cause. Politicians and others in power don’t need to be told to do something, or paid off, or anything else direct. They just need to see a popular hashtag, movement or tweet online and all of a sudden they rush to get onboard with whatever popular opinion is perceived to be. As always; control of the commanding heights of the media is equivalent to having control of the levers of power. The proliferation of virtue signallers makes this so much easier, which when coupled with algorithms and censorship ensures a lot of power to those in charge of “big tech”. Why else would the likes of Gates, Zuckerberg, Dorsey etc wield so much influence in areas they have no expertise, such as medical science.

Last edited 6 months ago by Ian Moore
Snake Oil Cat
Snake Oil Cat
6 months ago

Why boycott Spotify if you’re only going to do the same thing (i.e. listen to music in a monitored, digital-rights-managed fashion) elsewhere?
Fire up the Brennan!

Zaph Mann
Zaph Mann
6 months ago

I’ve been running the #neverspotify hastag for years but am against the current farce. #neverspotify is because Spotify doesn’t pay even a fraction of the worth of a song that’s listened to 10, 100, 1000… times
Bandcamp is a much fairer and better platform. But Past greats like Neil Young & Mitchell do make tons off spotify and don’t support the overall system – Rogan’s shows are controversial and often speculative or inaccurate – but trying to suppress that is wrong – #boycottspotify is censorship – and some of the time he’s uncovering things that are genuine and wouldn’t get to the major media until years after the fact and damage done.

JR Stoker
JR Stoker
6 months ago

I must admit I misunderstood this fracas at the outset. I thought Spotify were chucking N Young off at Rogon’s demand. As I was unhappy about paying £10 a month merely torrent some music, this was the final straw and i was about to leave when up popped Megan and her puppet glove with their particularly fatuous thinking.

Now what do I do? If I leave it looks as though I am supporting the wets