Joe Rogan draws big audiences for Spotify. But the hugely popular podcaster’s habit of making controversial remarks and courting right-wing figures and ideologies keeps generating a backlash — both inside and outside of the audio giant.
The latest vexation: In the April 23 episode of “The Joe Rogan Experience,” which is available exclusively on Spotify, Rogan encouraged healthy young people to not get a COVID-19 vaccine.
More from Variety
“If you’re, like, 21 years old, and you say to me, should I get vaccinated? I’ll go no,” he said in a conversation with comedian Dave Smith.
Rogan commented that he believes vaccines are safe and that people at risk should be vaccinated, noting that both his parents have received COVID-19 shots. But, Rogan continued, “If you’re a healthy person, and you’re exercising all the time, and you’re young, and you’re eating well, like, I don’t think you need to worry about this.” At another point, Rogan said, “We’re talking about something that is not statistically dangerous for children. But yet people still want you to get your child vaccinated, which is crazy to me.”
Rogan’s comments — coming as the pandemic still isn’t anywhere near being contained — were widely criticized as irresponsible and dangerous, including by watchdog group Media Matters. The organization noted that young people and children can and do, in fact, contract COVID-19 and that the disease can be deadly. While the FDA has not yet approved any coronavirus vaccine for children under 16, Pfizer’s vaccine has been approved for those 16 and older and Moderna’s has been approved for those who are 18 and older.
As of April 27, 29.1% of the U.S. population was fully vaccinated and 42.7% of Americans had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, according to data from the CDC.
“Rogan has frequently used his podcast to spread conspiracy theories, espouse dangerous COVID-19 misinformation, and attack trans people,” Media Matters said.
COVID misinformation on Rogan’s show has included false statements by Infowars founder and conspiracy-monger Alex Jones (who has been broadly deplatformed, including by Spotify). In an episode from October 2020, Jones bizarrely claimed that the COVID pandemic was being used by elites to “reorganize society” and “end prosperity.” Jones also asserted that “a lot of studies” have shown that wearing masks doesn’t help protect people in large groups from getting infected with the coronavirus. That’s incorrect: “Studies show that masks reduce the spray of droplets when worn over the nose and mouth,” which is the primary way COVID-19 is transmitted, according to the CDC.
Spotify has removed multiple episodes of “The Joe Rogan Experience” from its platform since on-boarding it last September, including past segments with Jones and others with right-wing guests Gavin McInnes and Milo Yiannopoulos. The streamer has pulled 42 episodes in total, per a tally earlier this month by Digital Music News.
So why is Spotify not taking action on certain episodes that contain misinformation? The company’s own employees have on several occasions complained to Spotify management about objectionable and harmful content on Rogan’s podcast. But Rogan’s April 23 podcast remains available — as does the Oct. 27 episode with Jones.
Spotify did not respond to requests for comment on the latest Rogan controversy. Sources familiar with the policy-enforcement process at Spotify have said that prohibited content applies to specific types of speech and that context matters in moderation decisions.
Spotify has removed episodes because of COVID misinformation in other situations. In the case of Rogan’s recommendation that healthy young people not get vaccinated, Spotify determined that he “doesn’t come off as outwardly anti-vaccine” and does not explicitly tell people to not get vaccinated, according to tech-news site The Verge, citing an anonymous source.
“The Joe Rogan Experience” is currently the No. 1 podcast on Spotify in the U.S., per its rankings, and has consistently been among its most-listened to shows. The podcast joined Spotify’s lineup in September under a multiyear pact reportedly worth $100 million and became available exclusively on the audio-streaming service in December.
[UPDATE: On Wednesday, Spotify said in its Q1 earnings announcement that Rogan’s show performed above expectations with respect to new user additions and engagement for the period.]
Spotify has said Rogan will maintain creative control over his podcast. While the full episodes of “The Joe Rogan Experience” are exclusive to Spotify, clips from the show are still posted to YouTube. Episodes of Rogan’s show on Spotify date back to 2009, when the comedian and former TV host first launched the show, except for the several dozen episodes Spotify has removed.
(Pictured above: Joe Rogan attends UFC 261 at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena on April 24 in Jacksonville, Fla.)
Best of Variety