Right at the start of the new year, American “comedian” Joe Rogan uploaded an episode of his podcast, The Joe Rogan Experience, that prompted 270 doctors, health care professionals, scientists, and professors to write an open letter to Spotify, expressing concern and calling for action to be taken on Rogan’s platform.
The letter was well deserved: large platforms like Spotify and their creators must act more responsibly online. Prior to the letter, Rogan was continuously disseminating false information regarding COVID-19 and the COVID-19 vaccines. The particular episode that sparked the open letter featured Dr. Robert Malone, a physician and biochemist, who openly claimed that the public has been “hypnotized” into believing leaders with regards to the safety of the COVID-19 vaccine. Of course, Malone’s claims are untrue, and psychology experts have noted that there is no support for such a theory.
That’s not all. In his podcast, Rogan has publicized claims such as the idea that the vaccines are “really gene therapy.” He also claimed that Ivermectin, an antiparasitic drug, can “cure COVID,” and that “if you get vaccinated after having had COVID, you're at greater risk of harmful side effects.” He even said that health risks from the vaccines are “greater than COVID.”
In response to the backlash, Rogan posted a video in which he stated, “I'm not trying to promote misinformation, I'm not trying to be controversial. I've never tried to do anything with this podcast other than just talk to people and have interesting conversations.”
If Rogan’s podcast doesn’t serve to “promote misinformation,” then what exactly is the purpose of uploading episodes that discuss incorrect statements without any proper content warnings or proper resources regarding such topics? These claims go beyond just having “interesting conversations.” They are, undoubtedly, contributing to the already substantial amount of ignorance surrounding COVID-19. Simply put, they are a health risk.
Such a blatant spread of lies is inexcusable. With Rogan’s podcast attracting about 11 million listeners per episode, The Joe Rogan Experience can cause irreversible damage to our collective health.
Following the ordeal, Spotify announced that it would be adding a content advisory to podcasts that discuss COVID-19 — reportedly aiming to provide credible resources from scientists and doctors — and published its platform rules to highlight what creators can and cannot do on their platform. Spotify also took additional action against Rogan, including quietly removing 70 episodes of his podcast in light of offensive content unrelated to COVID-19.
Spotify’s decision to publish its platform rules and add a content advisory regarding topics like pandemic is appropriate for the platform’s environment, overall. But these efforts are not enough for managing creators like Joe Rogan, who are contributing to the rampant spread of false information online. To truly combat these issues, the consequences need to be more severe.
With the amount of damage that Rogan has caused, Rogan deserves to face consequences. Such action could be through warning strikes on his platform, similar to YouTube’s Community Guidelines strike system, although this is unlikely due to Spotify owning The Joe Rogan Experience and presumably not wanting to decrease their profits.
That being said, retribution should be feasible for the platform. It’s not like Spotify is relying solely on Rogan’s podcast for profit. Even if Spotify owns Rogan’s podcast, Rogan’s repeated behavior of broadcasting misinformation on important topics should still warrant some sort of consequence, such as suspending uploads for a set duration of time.
As usual, this potential for censorship has led to discourse regarding the right to artistic freedom. But considering this particular situation, lack of proper action should not be tied to an issue of “creative freedom” at all. If creators are delivering information regarding controversial topics irresponsibly, then that should be reason enough to examine and moderate their work, if need be.
This course of action applies to other large platforms that host creators with big followings. In an age where our welfare is especially susceptible to the information that gets shared online, we must take these precautions for the sake of our health. As daily consumers of content from distribution platforms like Spotify, Princeton students must recognize the importance of holding such platforms and their creators accountable.
Gisele Bisch is a first-year from the North Shore of Oʻahu (Hawai‘i) who plans to concentrate in anthropology. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.