Alex Jones, the alt-right conspiracy theorist who has been kicked off major internet platforms, was a guest on the latest episode of Joe Rogan’s popular podcast — and during the rambling three-hour-plus show, Jones spouted a variety of misinformation, including claiming that masks aren’t effective at preventing COVID infection; denying climate-change science; spreading false anti-vaccine theories; and baselessly asserting that Democrats want to hamper the U.S. economy to get President Trump booted from office.
Spotify has not removed the “Joe Rogan Experience” episode with Jones, which also remains available on YouTube and Apple Podcasts, despite a backlash on social media. On YouTube, the episode has garnered more than 4.5 million views less than 24 hours after it was posted Tuesday (Oct. 27).
“The Joe Rogan Experience” joined Spotify’s lineup in September under a multiyear pact reportedly worth $100 million. The show will become available exclusively on Spotify this December.
A Spotify spokesperson declined to comment, and neither YouTube nor Apple has commented on the “JRE” episode with Jones.
Why have the platforms not taken down the Jones episode of the “Joe Rogan Experience” — especially given that Spotify, Apple and YouTube have previously banned the Infowars founder from their platforms?
Sources familiar with the policy-enforcement processes at Spotify and YouTube tell Variety that prohibited content applies to specific types of speech — not individuals per se — and that context matters in such moderation decisions. In this case, Rogan at several points challenged Jones’ conspiracy theories and cited credible sources; as such, the content isn’t considered in violation of the platforms’ misinformation policies.
To that end, Spotify chief legal officer and head of global affairs Horacio Gutierrez, circulated a memo Wednesday to team managers defending the company’s policy to not ban specific individuals from appearing in its podcasts just because of their past commentary, BuzzFeed News reported.
“Spotify has always been a place for creative expressions,” Gutierrez wrote in the email, per BuzzFeed. “It’s important to have diverse voices and points of view on our platform.” He also noted, “We are not going to ban specific individuals from being guests on other people’s shows, as the episode/show complies with our content policies.”
Arguably, Rogan delivered exactly what Spotify wants: He’s hosting a guest who expresses controversial opinions — or straight-up false information — that draw a sizable audience, while at the same time Spotify is able to defend leaving the content up because Rogan is providing “context.”
Still, the ongoing controversy surrounding Rogan’s podcast will likely continue to be a headache for Spotify. Last month, Spotify employees challenged CEO Daniel Ek in an internal town-hall meeting over a recent “JRE” podcast featuring anti-trans personality and author Abigail Shrier, according to a report by Vice’s Motherboard.
When it added “The Joe Rogan Experience” last month, Spotify omitted several episodes with far-right guests, including a February 2019 episode featuring Jones. In 2018, Spotify pulled Jones’ podcasts for violating its hate-speech policies, and the Infowars founder also was banned from YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and Apple Podcasts for violating policies on hate speech and harassment.
In the Oct. 27 episode of “The Joe Rogan Experience,” Jones claimed that the COVID pandemic is being used by elites to “reorganize society” and “end prosperity,” while also asserting that “a lot of studies” have shown that wearing masks doesn’t protect people in large groups from getting infected with the coronavirus. Jones also falsely claimed that an oral vaccine funded by Bill Gates caused polio among all of those who received it. Rogan pushes back on Jones’ misinformation at several points; for example, Rogan cites an Associated Press article reporting that, according to the UN, polio vaccines administered in Sudan were linked to just 13 cases of polio in the region. Throughout the episode, Jones, who was arrested and charged with DWI in March, is seen drinking alcohol.
Meanwhile, according to Rogan, he has invited Jones back to “JRE” for a special Nov. 3 Election Day episode.
According to Spotify, “The Joe Rogan Experience” has long been the most-searched-for podcast on its service. The episodes available on the service date back to 2009, when the comedian and former TV host first launched the show, except for the handful of episodes Spotify has removed.
Spotify has said Rogan will maintain “full creative control” over the show under the deal. While full episodes of “The Joe Rogan Experience” will be exclusive to Spotify starting in December, clips from the show will still be posted to YouTube.
Jones is “almost certainly the most prolific conspiracy theorist in contemporary America,” according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Among other things, Jones has claimed the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut — which killed 20 children and six adults — was a “giant hoax” perpetrated by “crisis actors.” In December 2019, a judge in Texas ordered Jones and Infowars to pay $100,000 in court costs and legal fees to the father of one of the victims in the Sandy Hook massacre in a defamation suit brought against Jones. In a court deposition last year, Jones said it was a “form of psychosis” that caused him to believe events like the Sandy Hook massacre were staged.
Jones also has said that NFL players protesting during the national anthem were “kneeling to white genocide”; accused the U.S. government of being behind the 9/11 attacks; attacked transgender and Muslim people; and called David Hogg, a survivor of the Parkland, Fla., high-school shooting, a Nazi.
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