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‘NEVER GONNA GIVE YOU UP’: SPOTIFY + JOE ROGAN

I don’t think Spotify is trying to Rick Roll us or anything, but the company may or may not be passionately singing ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’ by Rick Astley as it counts that sweet, sweet ad revenue coming in from “The Joe Rogan Experience” podcast.

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In order to dissect the Joe Rogan misinformation ‘scandal’, we first need a rundown of the false information that has been said on his podcast.

The BBC took the liberty of fact-checking four claims that were made on Joe Rogan’s podcast:

  1. Claim: A vaccine can alter your genes.
  2. Claim: Ivermectin can cure Covid.
  3. Claim: If you get vaccinated after having had Covid, you’re at greater risk of harmful side effects.
  4. Claim: For young people, the health risks from the vaccine are greater than from Covid.

Some of these claims were made by Joe Rogan, some were made by his guests. One guest in particular—a Dr. Malone—”was banned from Twitter in December last year for violating its Covid misinformation policies.”

Since the pandemic began, the world has been made aware of the current ‘infodemic‘ and the harmful effects in which health health misinformation has had on peoples’ wellbeing.

Such as:

  1. Poison control centers seeing a rise in calls and emergency rooms seeing a rise in patients who have taken the Ivermectin medication to prevent COVID-19; a medication that is meant for treating parasites in cows and horses—as told by NPR.
  2. Over 700 people in Iran died from ingesting large amounts of alcohol to prevent COVID-19 after rumors swirled about alcohol’s effectiveness against COVID-19.

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Joe Rogan stated in a video on Instagram— “I’m not a doctor, I’m not a scientist. I’m just a person who sits down and talks to people and has conversations with them.” He goes on to say “I don’t know what else I can do differently, other than maybe try harder to get different people with differing opinions.”

These statements are problematic in several ways:

  1. Joe Rogan’s deal with Spotify was reportedly over 200$ million dollars. The New York Times states, “Spotify bet big on Joe Rogan.” Spotify expected Joe Rogan’s podcast to be popular and thus beneficial to bringing more people to use the platform. So, for Joe Rogan to not know about a topic he’s discussing on his show is relatively equivalent to a popular journalist writing an article about a topic they don’t know anything about—sans research—and sending it off to be read by millions of people. It’s a tad irresponsible.
  2. Joe Rogan tends to have one guest on each of his podcasts. Because of that, the ability to have a ‘diverse voice’—which is one of the Truth Project’s trust indicators—makes the information narrow and homogenous.
  3. Calling misinformation an opinion can be a slippery slope. Misinformation is defined as “false or inaccurate information” while an opinion is defined as “a view or judgment formed about something, not necessarily based on fact or knowledge.” Claiming COVID-19 information is an opinion when there are facts which have proven said information is false is a contortion of what is true.

    Ultimately, at some point we have to have a “baseline of facts”—which President Obama once iterated the importance of in 2018.

Freedom of expression is 100% allowed; America laid the very foundation of that freedom the U.S. Constitution. However, in 2022 there’s sometimes consequences for expressing information that is inherently harmful to others.

In the social media world, that might mean getting your account suspended or having a misleading label put on your tweet. TikTok, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram all have misinformation policies in place to combat such content. Spotify, however, does not.

But as of January 2022, the company does plan on adding a ‘content advisory’ label to COVID-19 related podcast episodes.

Pew Research, 2022.

Podcasts may consist of just talking—or shooting the breeze—but the reality is, “nearly a quarter of Americans get news from podcasts”—according to Pew Research.

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If Spotify were to implement misinformation policies, it would need to use similar tactics to that of video based content platform TikTok—as the site uses AI to moderate audio misinformation. (Which has its flaws, by the way.)

Spotify states, though, that they aren’t “responsible for moderating content”—according to The New York Times.

The ‘content advisory’ labels which Spotify has promised are a small step toward fighting misinformation, but COVID-19 isn’t the only topic in which misinformation thrives.

Perhaps if ‘free’ services such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok and YouTube can set out ways to moderate and combat misinformation, Spotify can too. (Which has 180 million paying subscribers of its service as of 2020.)

Does Spotify have an obligation to do its due diligence in fighting misinformation as a major player in the media landscape?

In a major way, yes. Podcasts are content just like anything else—and like YouTube or Twitter, there are always going to be instances of misinformation.

But those platforms have recognized their role as major players in the media landscape and have implemented platform policies to rectify misinformation.

The issue isn’t about eliminating misinformation entirely, but rather proposing a plan which works to protect its subscribers from potentially harmful auditory content.

In the end though, Joe Rogan has to claim more responsibility toward the content he puts out. Although he may see himself as ‘just a talk show host’, in 2019 his podcast was downloaded 190 million times per month.

PER MONTH!

Rogan and Spotify are no fools when it comes to his podcast’s popularity—that increased ad revenue is proof enough.

Hopefully this will have proven itself to be a learning experience for both Joe Rogan and Spotify, but it may be just the tip of the iceberg in terms of Spotify’s need to address the issue of misinformation from podcasts within its platform.

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