In 2019, a GWU political science professor named Dave Karpf tweeted a joke about NYT columnist and the reason Bari Weiss has a platform, Bret Stephens, quoting a now-deleted report that the Times newsroom had a bedbug infestation:
Ignore those big numbers, this joke originally got nine likes and zero retweets. This weekend Karpf wrote about what happened next, taking it as a lesson in political communication informed by “E.E. Schattschneider’s classic book (1960), The Semi-Sovereign People.”
The Bretbug episode hits right at the center of a few themes from my class. It’s a classic example of “conflict expansion.” It illustrates the way that influencing the length of a contentious episode can be as consequential as influencing the content of a contentious episode. And it also highlights just how little is ultimately at stake when battles over public attention aren’t translated into structural change.
This could not be more timely, partly because the internet still exists and this pattern happens over and over, but specifically this weekend because Spotify and Joe Rogan failed to heed most of the same lessons as Bret Stephens.
In Wired Kate Knibbs predicted that “Spotify Was Never Going to Drop Joe Rogan.” Not for Neil Young, certainly not for Joni Mitchell, or Nils somebody. And 90’s alt-rockers Belly earn points for creative messaging but they can’t even remove their own music. Reports that Spotify lost $4 billion in market value after Neil Young called them out failed to connect the two facts in any meaningful way, since Spotify’s stock price has been declining steadily since November. It’s up 19% today, for whatever that means. I’m sure he cries sometimes when he’s lying in bed, but after Ashley Carman leaked Spotify’s anemic healthcare content policies in The Verge, CEO Daniel Ek decided to get it all out, what’s in his head, and tell everybody what he thinks is going on.
Personally, there are plenty of individuals and views on Spotify that I disagree with strongly. We know we have a critical role to play in supporting creator expression while balancing it with the safety of our users. In that role, it is important to me that we don’t take on the position of being content censor while also making sure that there are rules in place and consequences for those who violate them.
Sure, maybe Spotify doesn’t have very good health misinformation policies, but neither does the sea. This statement was not quite as stupid as Bret Stephens writing a whole-ass column about how some rando called him a bedbug a week after everyone had forgotten about it, but Spotify still made a clock management mistake by carrying this story into a brand new week rather than smothering it with wet blanket statements. They did at least attempt to change the grounds of the debate into the familiar platform cry: “content moderation at scale is hard!”
Sarah Frier @sarahfrierHow many times has Facebook put out almost the exact same statement? https://t.co/rBBCIed5zN
The real issue here for me is that, in May 2020, Spotify paid $100 million to become the exclusive home for Joe Rogan’s podcast, The Joe Rogan Experience… Spotify can’t really claim they didn’t know what his show was about when they became the sole distributor of it. And that’s what’s key. They are Rogan’s sole distributor.
And bullshit is the heart of this whole controversy, because that’s what Joe Rogan sells. Rogan posted a ten minute video on Instagram which is being described as “an apology,” presumably because he apologizes to Spotify “that they’re taking so much heat.” It opens with some more Covid misinformation, such as equating the long-time anti-masker claim that “cloth masks don’t work” with current CDC guidelines saying that N95 masks are a good choice if you can get them, now that we‘re dealing with omicron and there’s no N95 shortage anymore.
But it ends with a pointless anecdote from the last job Rogan was intellectually qualified for, as “a security guard at a place called Great Woods in Mansfield, Massachusetts.” My Massachusetts readers are nodding right now because suddenly his whole deal makes sense, right? Rogan’s show is exactly what you’d expect from a Great Woods security guard who looks like a sweaty thumb and thinks “Rockin’ in the Free World” is a song about freedom, and rockin’. Gifted with an unexpected audience of eleven million people, Rogan decided that his job is absolutely not to learn about his guests before he talks to them, let alone inform anyone about anything in particular. It’s just to “have interesting conversations.” He had a choice, and he chose bullshit.
Today in Crabs:
Gabriel Snyder’s NYC media newsletter Off the Record is now called The Fine Print, because the current owners of what used to be The New York Observer decided to be snotty about a column name they probably have no valid trademark claim to anymore. I would refer Gabe to Dave Karpf’s advice that:
the trick to turn a losing situation into a winning situation is to change who is involved in the fight. The side that wins a contentious episode isn’t the one making the best argument; it’s the one determining who is involved and what they will be fighting about.
Rumors of Yashar’s return seem to have been exaggerated. “Find the right home for your writing” with chillsubs.com. Davey Jones’s one-pot dinner. Ian Bogost solved the Wordle puzzle: “…it’s just a game, and games are fun.” Group chats are falling apart, writes Lauren Mechling. I mean, mine aren’t, but ok? 🌚 Maine CDC director Nirav Shah calls out the #blizzard #hoax. They’re doing Kozmo again. Orcas eat whale. These birds don’t exist. Decommissioned Atlas F missile silo for sale in Abilene, Kansas. It’s the same model as this one, in Abilene, Texas (no relation). Ask a Manager: “the new hire who showed up is not the same person we interviewed.” 👀 Justin Bieber’s big ape purchase was probably a wash sale. But hey, NFtS Are A RevOLUTIOnaRY New WaY FOr aRTIStS To make A LiVInG! Liz Lopatto: “Public accountants are deducting themselves from their jobs.” Please don’t bring Tab soda back, I don’t want to get sued.
Building it required the best of humans: cooperation and devotion to knowledge, daring and humility, respect for nature and our own ignorance, and the grit to keep picking up the pieces from failure and start again. And again.
Today’s Song: Belly, “Feed the Tree”
~ now she put the tab away and she's gone to get a hit ~
Fortunately I’m at no risk of collecting a Rogan-sized audience. I also try not to post bullshit @fka_tabs with let’s say mixed success. Today in Tabs is brought to you by YouTube alternating between “Down by the River” and “Cowgirl in the Sand” for like, two straight hours. I have no idea but I’m not complaining.