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Health & Fit: Spotify must act on Joe Rogan’s podcast and COVID-19 misinformation, health professionals urge

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Joe Rogan, who hosts the most-listened to podcast on Spotify, has become a public health menace by repeatedly promoting falsehoods about COVID-19 on his show, according to a group of doctors and health professionals.

More than 260 doctors, nurses, scientists, health professionals and academics, in a Jan. 10 open letter to Spotify, called on the streaming audio platform to “implement a misinformation policy” specifically citing “The Joe Rogan Experience” and its “concerning history of broadcasting misinformation, particularly regarding the COVID-19 pandemic.” The letter highlighted Rogan’s Dec. 31 episode in which his guest was discredited scientist Robert Malone, who promoted an upcoming anti-vaccine rally.

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In the letter (at this link), the health professionals said they are “calling on Spotify to take action against the mass-misinformation events which continue to occur on its platform.”

Spotify has not responded to a request for comment. Rolling Stone first reported on the open letter from the health professionals regarding Rogan’s propagation of COVID-19 misinformation.

“Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Joe Rogan has repeatedly spread misleading and false claims on his podcast, provoking distrust in science and medicine,” the letter says. “He has discouraged vaccination in young people and children, incorrectly claimed that mRNA vaccines are ‘gene therapy,’ promoted off-label use of ivermectin to treat COVID-19 (contrary to FDA warnings), and spread a number of unsubstantiated conspiracy theories.”

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The letter concludes, “This is not only a scientific or medical concern; it is a sociological issue of devastating proportions and Spotify is responsible for allowing this activity to thrive on its platform.”

In the Dec. 31 episode of “The Joe Rogan Experience,” Rogan hosted Malone, who has been kicked off Twitter for spreading COVID-19 misinformation. “Dr. Malone used the ‘JRE’ platform to further promote numerous baseless claims, including several falsehoods about COVID-19 vaccines and an unfounded theory that societal leaders have ‘hypnotized’ the public,” the health professionals’ letter to Spotify said. The group noted that Malone is one of two recent guests on Rogan’s show (along with anti-vaccine supporter Peter McCullough) who have compared pandemic policies to the Holocaust.

Last spring, Rogan’s suggestion that young people should not get vaccinated for COVID-19 led critics including Dr. Anthony Fauci to dispute him by pointing out it’s important for everyone to get vaccinated in order to stop the spread of the virus. Rogan subsequently backtracked and tried to downplay his influence. “I’m not a doctor, I’m a fucking moron, and I’m a cage-fighting commentator who’s a dirty stand-up comedian,” he said in an April 2021 episode of his podcast. “I’m not a respected source of information — even for me.”

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“The Joe Rogan Experience” was the No. 1 most-listened to podcast on Spotify in 2021, according to the company. Spotify inked a multiyear deal with Rogan in 2020, reportedly worth more than $100 million, for exclusive rights to distribute “The Joe Rogan Experience.”

“‘JRE’ is the world’s largest podcast and has tremendous influence,” the letter said, citing an estimate that the podcast reaches 11 million listeners per episode. “Though Spotify has a responsibility to mitigate the spread of misinformation on its platform, the company presently has no misinformation policy.”

In fact, Spotify has said it does have a policy banning COVID-19 misinformation — however, from all appearances, it isn’t consistently enforced.

Last year, Spotify removed another podcast that spread COVID-19 misinformation hosted by conspiracy theorist Pete Evans. At the time a Spotify rep told CNN that “Spotify prohibits content on the platform which promotes dangerous false, deceptive, or misleading content about COVID-19 that may cause offline harm and/or pose a direct threat to public health.”

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Spotify CEO Daniel Ek has previously declined to comment specifically about Rogan (although the company has removed some episodes of “The Joe Rogan Experience” with far-right guests). “What I will say is we have 8 million creators, and hundreds of millions of pieces of content,” Ek told Bloomberg News in April 2021 when asked about misinformation on Rogan’s podcast. “We have a content policy and we do remove pieces that violate it.”

Last week, watchdog group Media Matters pointed out that the rally promoted by Rogan — which aims “to end the vaccine mandates” — has sponsors that “include Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s anti-vaccine group Children’s Health Defense and The Unity Project, whose leadership board includes a veritable array of COVID-19 misinformers, including Peter McCullough, Paul Alexander, Tess Lawrie, and Pierre Kory.”

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