David Heinemeier Hansson

January 29, 2022

Spotify's completely reasonable healthcare content policy

Here's what you can't say on a podcast hosted by Spotify about Covid, per the company's internal moderation policy:

Content that promotes dangerous false or deceptive content about healthcare that may cause offline harm and/or pose a direct threat to public health such as:

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 an impressively clear and concise policy! Focused primarily on the concrete "imminent threat" principle. Thus making it clear whether a violation has happened or not.

But I get the sense that this clarity is actually a mark of failure for those who'd rather see vague terms like "misinformation" or "disinformation" form the core of such policies. Terms that have been stretched so far that all manner of reasonable speech can be included when it serves the political mood or moment.

It certainly appears to be a disappointment to those who had hoped they could catch Spotify applying special treatment to Rogan's show. Under the policy as written, it's clear that's not what's happening.

Amongst those disappointed observers is The Verge. Here's how they express their frustration:

These guidelines seemingly allow podcasters to say the vaccines cause death — just not that they are designed to cause death. Similarly, they allow podcasters to say wearing a mask is ineffective, just not that wearing masks will cause imminent, life-threatening harm.

First, vaccines have caused deaths! The Danish state pulled AstraZeneca from the official vaccine program after several deaths occurred from rare but fatal side effects. The family of the victims were awarded compensation from the state as a result of these deaths. In Norway, four deaths were linked to the same vaccine, and the Norwegian state also removed AstraZeneca from the official vaccine program as a result.

Second, wearing some masks has also been shown to be ineffective in a variety of settings (like with kids and schools). Thus the new push for N95s. And let's not forget that at the start of the pandemic, it was official US policy that masks didn't work.

Should podcasters really be banned from discussing either of these phenomenon? It didn't turn out well when the lab leak theory was banned from social media, only to be allowed once it became clear that the "conspiracy theory" label was applied prematurely.

I was in Denmark when the AstraZeneca vaccine was pulled from the official program as a result of the deaths. It was naturally a topic of intense national debate: Yes, the risk of death was low, but pushing on by downplaying these deaths might well have harmed the overall trust in vaccines even more. Arguments went back and forth for weeks in radio, tv, and online.

Would Danes really have been better off if the discussion of rare but real vaccine deaths were banned from the media? That seems very hard to believe.

Kudos to the Swedish leadership at Spotify for reaching the same conclusion. Tack så mycke!

About David Heinemeier Hansson

Made Basecamp and HEY for the underdogs as co-owner and CTO of 37signals. Created Ruby on Rails. Wrote REWORK, It Doesn't Have to Be Crazy at Work, and REMOTE. Won at Le Mans as a racing driver. Fought the big tech monopolies as an antitrust advocate. Invested in Danish startups.