Slacker’s Syllabus: Joe Rogan’s Spotify Drama

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Comedian and podcaster Joe Rogan courted controversy in recent weeks when his Spotify-exclusive podcast, The Joe Rogan Experience, hosted doctors who made misleading and, at times, inaccurate claims about COVID-19 and the pandemic.

The episodes — the latest development in a long history of Rogan and his podcast promoting misinformation about COVID have prompted widespread criticism. In the past week, musicians Neil Young and Joni Mitchell both publicly asked Spotify to either remove the show or pull their music catalogs. Shortly after, popular podcaster Brené Brown announced that she wouldn’t be releasing new episodes of her Spotify-exclusive podcasts "until further notice," though she didn't specify a reason.

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The streamer has since removed Young and Mitchell’s music, while facing a growing firestorm over its responsibility in regulating COVID-19 misinformation — particularly from a platform as large The Joe Rogan Experience, which draws some 11 million listeners per episode, according to The Washington Post.

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What’s the problem, exactly?

In the episodes in question, physicians Peter McCullough, MD and Robert Malone, MD both made unsubstantiated claims related to COVID, questioning the efficacy and potential danger of vaccines. Malone, who has been banned from Twitter, called the vaccine “experimental,” and McCullough said that the pandemic was planned.

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Fact Check:

The vaccines are not experimental. They have been vetted through a rigorous set of clinical trials, and were authorized as widely safe for public use.

John Hopkins Medicine

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Fact Check:

There has never been any substantive evidence indicating that the pandemic was orchestrated.

Reuters

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It’s become clear to me that we have an obligation to do more to provide balance and access to widely-accepted information from the medical and scientific communities guiding us through this unprecedented time.

So, will Spotify actually do anything about it?

Spotify CEO Daniel Ek said in a statement that the company is planning to add a content advisory to podcast episodes that include discussion about COVID. The company also publicized its official content policy, including removing any content that claims “AIDS, COVID-19, cancer or other serious life-threatening diseases are a hoax or not real.”

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And yet...

An internal memo obtained by The Verge reveals that Spotify had reviewed controversial episodes of The Joe Rogan Experience and determined that none met “the threshold for removal.”

But Spotify’s decision is hardly surprising.

The bar for removal would likely be remarkably high for Rogan, easily Spotify’s top podcaster. The streamer paid over $100 million for the show’s exclusive rights in a 2020 deal.

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What does Rogan have to say?

In his own video response to the controversy, Rogan agreed with Spotify’s statement about content advisories and promised to try to “balance out the controversial guests.” However, he took issue with accusations that his podcast has been promoting “misinformation.” Rather, he claimed, he was simply trying to make a show with “interesting conversations.”

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Yet, this recent controversy is just one of many instances over the last couple of years in which Rogan has been criticized for spouting bullshit about COVID — including the false claims that young people are more in danger from the vaccine than from COVID itself and that ivermectin, a drug for horse parasites, helped him after he contracted the virus himself.

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270

The number of "scientists, medical professionals, professors, and science communicators" who signed an open letter on Dec. 31, 2021, asking Spotify to take action against COVID-19 misinformation, specifically on 'The Joe Rogan Experience.'

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By allowing the propagation of false and societally harmful assertions, Spotify is enabling its hosted media to damage public trust in scientific research and sow doubt in the credibility of data-driven guidance offered by medical professionals.

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But it’s not just about COVID.

This controversy speaks to the widespread divisiveness over Rogan and his platform. While the podcaster claims that the appeal of his show is one of unstructured, freewheeling conversation, the conceit has become a license to publicize irresponsibly inane notions and feature guests like conspiracy theorist Alex Jones.

More recently, Rogan hosted highly controversial professor Jordan Peterson on the podcast. During the four-hour episode, the pair offered up troves of complete nonsense, including questioning climate change and musing about who is allowed to call themselves “Black.”

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In his recent response, Rogan pledged to be more careful in researching guests with controversial opinions.

But if Rogan’s recent tenure with Spotify and the tone of his overall rise over the last few years have indicated anything, it’s that he (and Spotify) will continue to maintain a mindless — and at times sketchy — platform.

As Rogan said himself last year after taking heat over his vaccine takes,

“I’m not a doctor. I’m a fucking moron.”