By Farah Refaey, March 28 2022—
On Dec. 31 2021, Joe Rogan decided to ring in the new year by uploading a now infamous episode of the Joe Rogan Experience (JRE) featuring Dr. Robert Malone — a former immunologist who claims to be the inventor of mRNA vaccines.
Rogan is no stranger to public controversy with a long track record of transphobia, misogyny, Islamophobia and racism. Malone has been spreading misinformation about COVID-19 and vaccinations throughout the pandemic which he has complained has earned him bans from Twitter and LinkedIn. In this particular episode of the JRE, Rogan claims that in Sweden, a country that has been criticized for its minimalist stance on COVID-19 restrictions, the virus has “burned through the population” leading to low mortality and infection rates.
On the other hand, both the king and prime minister of Sweden have declared the Swedish government’s response to the pandemic a “failure.” While Sweden’s mortality and infection rates are globally average, their mortality rates have consistently been highest of the Scandinavian countries since the onset of the pandemic.
Individuals like Malone should be aware of the authority they hold when they present themselves as experts in a certain field. They should also be aware of the responsibility that comes with such authority. As a scientist and a researcher, Malone is well aware of the importance of nuance and carefully selected wording when making statements to the public. He should assume that his audience will take his words at face value without consulting other sources because of his perceived credibility as a doctor and he should be extremely wary of any words that could be misunderstood or misconstrued.
Rogan, as the host of the top podcast in North America, is also well-aware of the power that comes with possessing such a platform but he seems less familiar with the responsibility that comes with it. It should be his responsibility to ensure the quality and truth of the information he and his guests spread.
No individual should be given uncontrolled power to command an audience of over 11 million people. There should be a fact-checking process in place. At the very least, Rogan, whose medical expertise rivals that of the average high school student, should not be giving out any medical advice.
But who should hold individuals like Malone and Rogan accountable? Is it the responsibility of the individuals at the forefront, the media company producing the episodes, media distributors such as Spotify, or does the responsibility fall to the public? In this case, it somehow fell to a collective of doctors and scientists to demand action from Spotify and to musicians to amplify their voices by threatening to remove their music from the platform.
An open letter to Spotify signed by hundreds of academics and medical professionals demanded that Spotify instate policy to tackle the mass misinformation that is not only occurring on the platform but is subsidized by it. After this open letter was issued, musician Neil Young issued his own letter to his team, which has now been deleted, demanding that Spotify either remove his music or Rogan’s content from their platform.
Fellow musician Joni Mitchell echoed Young’s sentiment, standing in solidarity with the medical and scientific community behind the open letter. Spotify did not oblige Young by deleting episodes of JRE and both Young and Mitchell had the majority of their catalogs removed from the platform.
Almost a month after the catalyst JRE episode was uploaded, Spotify CEO and co-founder Daniel Ek released a news post in which he announced the company’s next steps. First, they published the Platform Rules that have supposedly been in place for years. Among the categories of content explicitly not allowed on the platform is dangerous content, which includes content that promotes “false or deceptive medical information […] that poses a direct threat to public health.”
To me, portraying COVID-19 as a hoax orchestrated by the government to induce “mass formation psychosis,” in order to implant microchip trackers into their citizens through the COVID vaccine easily fits this description. It is unclear, then, how the JRE still has a home on the platform.
Second, Spotify added a content advisory to all podcast episodes that contain discussions of COVID. This content advisory links to COVID-related podcasts on the platform and external organizations such as the World Health Organization. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki called this a positive step, but urged Spotify and other media platforms to do more to curb the spread of misinformation.
Spotify has removed zero episodes of JRE for COVID misinformation but a week after their response to the initial controversy, a compilation video of Rogan using the N-word numerous times on his podcast surfaced. Over 70 episodes of JRE were allegedly removed due to Rogan’s use of the racial slur — a miniscule step Rogan takes credit for in his apology as if no longer profiting from his public displays of racism is a form of reparations.
In an internal memo, Spotify CEO Daniel Ek committed to investing $100 million — the same amount Rogan received in his exclusive deal with the platform — in content by creators from marginalized communities. Investing the same amount to be divided amongst an unspecified number of underrepresented creators as they invested in one racist white man’s podcast is an ill-fated move that has been referred to by one Twitter user as “price-matching racism.”
This story serves as a reminder that corporations will always prioritize profits over people and that includes the corporations we have no choice but to love because of their public image, carefully curated to make us forget they are corporations.
What the cycle always lacks is true restitution. Rogan maintains he is not spreading misinformation, refers to the compilation video of him freely using a racial slur as a “political hit job” and continues to have a platform as the world’s most popular podcast host. Removing content that disseminates decidedly false medical information to millions of people is not censorship because no one, let alone Rogan, should have a right to publicly lie with no restrictions.
This article is part of our Opinions section and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Gauntlet’s editorial board.