Joe Rogan cannot continue spreading false information

Written By Rachel Ross, Co-Opinions Editor

Before COVID-19, I had never heard of Joe Rogan. My introduction came in the form of ever-topical references on “Saturday Night Live” and conversations about his “antics” from other podcasters. In these and other instances where I’ve seen him mentioned, I’ve observed that people usually view his behavior in one of two lights: either as being so absurd it’s funny, or so absurd it’s actually dangerous. Right now, the latter seems to be the general consensus.

For those unfamiliar, Joe Rogan is a public figure most known in recent years for hosting a podcast, aptly named, “The Joe Rogan Experience.” Besides this, he’s done a whole bunch of other stuff across the board: he was a color commentator for the UFC, an actor, a comedian and the host of “Fear Factor.” The podcast picked up traction over the years after its start in 2009, to the point that in 2020, Spotify purchased the rights to the show and made it a platform exclusive program.

The show has garnered even more attention throughout the pandemic as a result of Rogan’s commentary on the events unfolding, mostly for its often factually and scientifically incorrect nature. Now enter Neil Young, a singer/songwriter whose career spans decades. Young decides that he’s fed up with Spotify giving Rogan a platform to spread COVID-19 misinformation and says he’s going to pull his music catalog from the streaming service if they don’t shut him down. Since then, other artists have come forward in support of Neil agreeing to do the same, such as Joni Mitchell and Graham Nash, and the internet has blown up with people urging the masses to listen to music elsewhere.

The situation has only become further exacerbated by Spotify’s response. All they really said is that they would be taking measures to stop the spread of COVID-19 misinformation, such as including advisories on content that discusses the virus. For myself, and many others responding across the internet, Spotify’s choice of action, or inaction really, comes across as more of a wave off and a “Yeah, yeah, yeah, we’ll take care of it,” than anything.

Rogan has since apologized for the situation, and claimed that he’s not trying to promote misinformation, although he stated having a problem with the phrase due to the rapidly evolving nature of COVID-19 research and developments. He thinks what is said as an opinion one day can turn out to be fact the next, and for that reason he doesn’t like the term. Rogan went on to say that he wants to try and do better moving forward.

Between the two options that Spotify had in front of them — either to side with Rogan or side with Young — I’m not really surprised that they did what they did, essentially siding with Rogan. I’m not saying it’s right, I’m just not surprised. At the end of the day, Spotify is a company. They didn’t reportedly pay $200 million (it was previously reported that they paid half that) for the rights to Rogan’s podcast because they thought it would make a wholesome addition to their platform; they did it because they knew it would draw people in and make them more money, whether through subscriptions or adsense.

I’m sure they knew what they were getting into when they made the deal. Now, they’re being held accountable for the role they’ve played in encouraging this, and they’ve snapped into Public Relations mode: they’re saying what they know people want to hear. There’s no way they’re going to even consider dumping Rogan until enough major artists or podcasters decide to leave the platform, to the point that it starts drastically offsetting what they make from Rogan. Spotify only truly cares to see situations like these from a moral perspective when it’s benefiting them.

When it’s about making sure their platform doesn’t stifle creators and their right to free speech, they’re all over it. They know that’s the strongest argument in their arsenal. It’s one that’s understandable and isn’t rooted in greed or gray areas; when you shut one thing down, it can become a slippery slope to shutting down more and more in the interest of adhering to guidelines and not being hypocritical. It’s an argument that admittedly made me ponder for a moment if we couldn’t just let Joe Rogan wear himself out with his nonsense in some dingy corner of the internet’s right wing. Just ignore him and let him do what he has to do. But that’s where the problem lies; I was never trying to pay attention to him in the first place, and yet I still know who he is.

As I said previously, I had never heard of Joe Rogan before the pandemic. Maybe that’s just me not being privy to what’s going on online outside of a small bubble of creators, I don’t know. But he certainly wasn’t making headlines pre-COVID like he has since. I’m sure there are a myriad of others like me who only became aware of him because of this reputation he has worked up through spreading misinformation. This is exactly why something needs to be done. People are paying attention, intentionally or not. Sure, it doesn’t mean much for those who acknowledge and trust the science to roll their eyes and wave him off. But for those who are on the fence, it’s a different story.

What happens when someone builds an argument for why they believe a certain thing and none of the information is true? Millions of people listen to him, and the number just keeps growing. And for those who are already firmly anti-vax, he’s just adding fuel to the fire. It’s not fair for false information to be circling out there and be legitimized by someone with as big of an audience as his; it’s irresponsible. Right, wrong, or indifferent, it’s human nature to legitimize things from people we regard highly or that have a large following. It’s why endorsements and celebrity branding works. I’m not buying Just Water on the rare occasion I go to Whole Foods because I think it’s so great; I get it because it’s the Will Smith water. But something like that is harmless enough; it’s just water.

This situation with Joe Rogan is as bad as it is because of what’s at stake. This has to do with people’s health and well-being. It’s serious stuff. Between how far his words are reaching and the number of people that listen to him regularly and like his commentary, it’s irresponsible to present pseudoscience or theories as facts.

From his apology and the bits and pieces I have seen of his offenses on his podcast, it seems as though he wants to frame what he’s been doing as offering another viewpoint or perspective. That he’s just curious what other people have to say and wants to hear their perspective on things. He claimed in his apology that he doesn’t want to be controversial. I’m not really sure how you get as far as he has with this brand that is so closely tied to being controversial without doing it on purpose. He claims that he wants to just hear people out, but then demonstrates behavior leaning more towards the side of those spreading misinformation, that’s why this is such a problem. This isn’t a whoopsie daisy about getting a fact wrong accidently, this is making adamant statements that if you’re young and healthy there’s no need to get vaccinated. This is booking people to talk on your show that have been banned on other platforms for spreading misinformation.

He makes these very intentional moves, and then tries to play them off as if he doesn’t believe in them as wholeheartedly as he does. “I don’t think you should get vaccinated…but hey, I’m not a doctor…but anyways, here’s some guy who says he is a doctor and he doesn’t think you should get it either…but do with that what you will, I’m just hearing him out.” Don’t say you’re hearing people out when you clearly have very adamant feelings already. Rogan is trying to play both sides and keep himself in everyone’s good graces, and it’s just not possible when he’s making such firm statements and demonstrating these calculated actions.

The bottom line is that no one needs this. No one needs it. We have been in this pandemic for over two years. Just leave well enough alone at this point and let the real doctors and people who actually know what they’re talking about do what they have to do. I’m tired of the constant back and forth. I’m not saying there’s not something to be said for being cautious, but it gets to a certain point where you’re taking things way too far, and you’re giving people fuel to formulate an opinion that isn’t factual.

Obviously, Joe Rogan is not the end all be all; if he stops talking about COVID-19, the pandemic isn’t going to miraculously end. It’s just the principle. It’s a step in a larger collective. He’s certainly not helping to wrap things up. Spotify needs to do more. They need to put genuine effort into stopping the spread of misinformation, not only in regards to the pandemic, but in general. Even if Rogan does stop talking about COVID-19, it’s possible, considering his track record, that he could take to spreading misinformation about other things. It doesn’t have to be censorship; it’s just fact checking, that’s all. There’s too much at stake, and too many people listening to just let it go.