Nation/World

Doctors call out Spotify over Joe Rogan spreading ‘false and societally harmful’ covid-19 claims

A coalition of hundreds of doctors and public health experts have called out Spotify for allowing Joe Rogan to spread “false and societally harmful assertions” about coronavirus and vaccination on the streaming platform that hosts his wildly popular podcast.

In an open letter published Monday, more than 270 medical professionals urge Spotify to stop “enabling its hosted media to damage public trust in scientific research and sow doubt in the credibility of data-driven guidance.” Rogan, whose show reaches an estimated audience of 11 million people an episode, has repeatedly downplayed the need for coronavirus vaccines and used his giant platform to flirt with misinformation about covid-19.

“Though Spotify has a responsibility to mitigate the spread of misinformation on its platform, the company presently has no misinformation policy,” the group wrote in the letter, which was first reported by Rolling Stone this week. “Throughout the covid-19 pandemic, Joe Rogan has repeatedly spread misleading and false claims on his podcast, provoking distrust in science and medicine.”

While the coalition is not asking for Spotify to cancel “The Joe Rogan Experience,” the group is pushing for the company to do more to prevent further misinformation from spreading on what is considered the nation’s most popular podcast.

“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,” the group wrote.

Neither representatives for Rogan nor Spotify immediately returned requests for comment early Friday.

Spotify has previously removed other episodes from hosts on its platform that have spread covid misinformation, but have not done so with Rogan. Spotify has deleted 40 unrelated episodes of Rogan’s show from its service, including one featuring Alex Jones, who has pushed the false theory that the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting was a hoax. But Spotify did not pull an April 2021 episode in which Rogan actively discouraged young people from getting vaccinated, saying, “If you’re like 21 years old, and you say to me, ‘Should I get vaccinated?’ I’ll go ‘no.’”

“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,” the company said in a statement to the Verge last April. “When content that violates this standard is identified it is removed from the platform.”

The letter comes as misinformation around the virus and vaccination continues to spread throughout the United States. As the highly-transmissible omicron variant has surged in recent months, anti-vaccine influencers have pushed falsehoods in all corners of life - from the wellness world to pregnancy apps.

Rogan, a stand-up comedian and color commentator for the Ultimate Fighting Championship, is a lightning rod with a huge following. Spotify acquired Rogan’s podcast library in 2020 in a reported $100 million deal.

The podcast host has previously lambasted the push for mass vaccinations and slammed vaccine requirements for event spaces. When Rogan announced in September that he tested positive for coronavirus, he said he was using a number of therapeutics and treatments, including the anti-parasitic drug ivermectin, which the Food and Drug Administration has strongly recommended against using to prevent or treat covid.

Doctors who signed the letter took umbrage with one recent episode in particular featuring Robert Malone, a physician who bills himself as having played a key role in the creation of mRNA vaccines. Malone has since become a prominent skeptic of the coronavirus vaccines that have been crafted using the technology, often “promoting baseless conspiracy theories,” according to the coalition.

Malone used Rogan’s platform to promote “an unfounded theory that societal leaders have ‘hypnotized’ the public,” the group wrote, adding the physician’s false claim has been debunked.

“Notably, Dr. Malone is one of two recent JRE guests who has compared pandemic policies to the Holocaust,” the letter adds. “These actions are not only objectionable and offensive, but also medically and culturally dangerous.”

Among those who signed the letter was Katrine Wallace, an epidemiologist at the University of Illinois at Chicago’s School of Public Health. She told Rolling Stone that Rogan was “a menace to public health” for pushing anti-vaccine ideology on his show.

“Having things like this on the Joe Rogan podcast gives a platform to these people and makes it a false balance. This is what really bothers me,” she said. “These are fringe ideas not backed in science, and having it on a huge platform makes it seem there are two sides to this issue. And there are really not. The overwhelming evidence is the vaccine works, and it is safe.”

On social media, some said the letter is yet another reason Spotify needed to enforce more guidelines on Rogan, while conservatives such as political commentator Ben Shapiro were quick to defend the host.

“I assure all of those - particularly those in the media - calling for Joe Rogan’s censorship, Joe is laughing at you,” Shapiro tweeted Friday. “And he should be.”

Rogan’s critics cheered when the host was fact-checked on-air about vaccination by a guest on his show recently. When Rogan claimed Wednesday there was more of an adverse risk of myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle, in children that were vaccinated compared to those infected with covid, Australian media personality Josh Szeps said the opposite was true.

“I don’t think that’s true,” Rogan said.

“It is,” Szeps replied.

After Rogan asked a producer to “look that up,” they found an article published in the British science journal the New Scientist that supported what Szeps was saying.

“That’s interesting,” Rogan said. “That is not what I’ve read before.”

Some critics, such as epidemiologist Eric Feigl-Ding, noted how “the goal post moving of Joe Rogan after getting fact-checked live” was “incredible.”

“Please vaccinate, don’t risk covid,” he wrote.

Rogan took to Twitter late Thursday to address a clip of their exchange that had already been shared about 4 million times.

“If anyone was going to make me look dumb on the podcast I’m glad it’s @joshzepps because I love him, and he’s awesome,” Rogan tweeted. “That video is cringey, but it’s what happens when you stumble in a long form podcast when you didn’t know a subject was going to come up and you wing it.”

He concluded: “I’m sure I’ll stumble again in the future, but I honestly do my best to get things correct.”

The Washington Post’s Elahe Izadi and Emily Yahr contributed to this report.

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