On Hypocrisy, Free Speech, Boycotts, Joe Rogan, and Spotify

by Andrew “AT” on 5 February 2022

This post is in response to the news recently concerning Joe Rogan and Spotify. If you aren’t up to speed, here are several stories from across the political spectrum:

Post Millennial

Washington Post

Just the News


These tweets came across my Twitter feed in the past couple days, and I thought it was worth making a long-formish response. Consider this my response on behalf of some of the “antiwokes”. It’s not my favorite term, but I fall in that camp. More or less.

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It’s always very easy to see hypocrisy on the other side of the aisle, for a couple reasons. First and foremost, in a polarized environment like the United States, motivated reasoning is common. I’m a conservative-libertarian myself, so I completely understand the urge to look for and promulgate the hypocrisies of the other side. But that motivated reasoning has a tendency to lead us astray, especially if we don’t understand the other side we are criticizing. As the ideological divide widens, we become even less likely to understand the nuances of our opponents’ views and beliefs. (This may become a standalone post one day.)

This is not a left vs right problem, it’s a human problem. One that I notice in myself, and strive to overcome. So I’m always skeptical when anyone announces, “see how hypocritical my opponents are?”

via GIPHY

I’m using the phrase “do the work” ironically. But clearing biases from our perception is hard work.

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With that out of the way, let’s get into the meat of the argument.

“Antiwokes” generally want freedom of speech, based on everyone I’ve talked to. There are some exceptions, but not to worry, I’ll be challenging them in the future as well. To protect this freedom, we’ve enshrined in the First Amendment to the Constitution. This only applies to the government, which means that private companies like Spotify can legally censor speech, and individuals are free to unsubscribe. None of us want to force people to give Spotify money or prohibit musicians from taking music off Spotify. Some of us may be in favor of laws that limit tech companies’ ability to censor people. Some of us also advocate for limits on speech. But that’s a separate discussion of hypocrisy from the arguments above.

Both tweets have the same core argument. They allege condemnation of certain types of speech, or other symbolic speech like unsubscribing from Spotify, is inconsistent with freedom of speech values. If we take this argument to its logical conclusion all criticism would be a violation of free speech, which is absurd. Freedom from criticism is the opposite of freedom of speech.

Now some “antiwokes” have been accusing pulling music or financial support for Spotify as being authoritarian, which certainly seems to support the accusations of hypocrisy. How could free, individual choices possibly be considered authoritarian?

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While I’m not a fan of this, as it puts the label cart before the argument horse, I can explain why “antiwokes” make the accusation of authoritarianism here. Free speech isn’t just a legal principle, it’s a value. We want a culture of freedom. And when you take action to discourage or prevent people from saying certain things, that’s crowd-sourced censorship. What’s the point of a First Amendment protecting free speech if we privately try to stop people from using it? And not just stop them, but intentionally try to take away their financial support? Or discourage anyone from doing business with them? (Again, don’t make the mistake of the tweets above. Criticizing speech is not contrary to freedom of speech, it’s an integral part of it.) All individuals are legally free to avoid doing business with anyone or everyone who says something they don’t like, but when it happens at scale, it can become tyranny by other means.

Don’t get me wrong, there will be times to draw a line in the sand, and completely divest ourselves of any financial or social connections with certain evil acts. Boycotts are still valid tools. But how often do we use them? When is it in overreaction, and when is it acceptable?

This makes room for a common counter: It’s acceptable right now because Joe Rogan is hurting people with misinformation. We need boycotts in order to discourage or prevent misinformation and save lives.

And that’s a pretty solid counter.

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But the reason “antiwokes” and/or right-wingers are skeptical is because we believe we see hypocrisy too. We see people, not just individuals, or podcasts, but media networks hide their biases and misinformation beneath a veneer of objectivity and authority. And very few people who are concerned that Joe Rogan is spreading misinformation are also concerned about misinformation. So to us, it doesn’t seem as though this is about misinformation or harm. It seems as though people are selectively choosing which misinformation to boycott based on how it helps their political agenda. What if some of that misinformation causes harm?

Unfortunately, this argument is a pandora’s box. Partly because most partisans suffer from confirmation bias, and tend to focus on the things that help their political team, and avoid or downplay the things that could help the other side. This is another human problem that we see on both sides of the aisle. It also opens a whole series of arguments regarding media bias, misinformation, etc today, but I will in the future. But like I said in the beginning, it’s the easiest thing in the world to “see” the hypocrisy in our political opponents:)

If you want to boycott Spotify or think my fears are overhyped, that’s fine. You have every right to. But when we use them as tools to win partisan victories, there will be retaliatory consequences. This back and forth naturally leads to escalation and further polarization. Without de-escalation, I worry for our future as a nation. So I ask you, where will you draw the line?

Regardless of your answer, I hope this helped to shine a light on this debate and clarify the issues. As the truckers in Canada say:


Notes:

Though I do not cite the authors of the tweets used in this piece, I do notify them. I do this to balance letting people know I’m critiquing them while trying to avoid making things personal, if possible.

If you like my work, please consider contributing to my Patreon!

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