If you hadn’t heard of Joe Rogan prior to the last few weeks, chances are you have now.
The comedian, actor and Ultimate Fighting Championship commentator is best known today for his podcast “The Joe Rogan Experience (JRE),” which streams exclusively on Spotify. “JRE” is considered one of the world’s most popular podcasts, though its host has recently come under fire for spreading misinformation about the COVID-19 pandemic, among other things. Going as far back as last April, Rogan’s misleading statements range from questioning who is the most at-risk for contracting the virus to arguing against lockdowns and relying on “natural immunity” more than the vaccine. He has even claimed that anti-parasitic drugs can combat COVID-19. Things came to a head on Jan. 24, 2022, when singer Neil Young sent an open letter to Spotify (that has since been deleted) requesting that either Rogan’s show be canceled or that Young’s entire music catalog be removed from the app. Young’s catalog was removed days later. Joni Mitchell followed suit on Jan. 28, along with several other artists and podcast hosts who boycotted the streaming service.
In response to everything happening with Rogan, Spotify announced the creation of the COVID-19 Guide, which provides factual information surrounding the pandemic. Content advisories will also be added to future episodes of any podcast that discusses COVID-19. But one obvious change has not been made: Spotify has no plans to pull the plug on Rogan’s show. Even though CEO Daniel Ek says that Rogan’s views “do not represent the values of this company,” he also does not believe “that silencing Joe is the answer.”
The spread of misinformation is not a new concept on any social media platform (and yes, Spotify can be considered social media). “Fake news” has been a growing issue surrounding politics, the pandemic, climate change and more. Though studies have shown that being called out for sharing misleading content online can earn users a bad reputation and reduced status, attempts to hold Rogan accountable for his actions have instead led to trains of pointing fingers. Though “cancel culture” is a completely different issue and one that we don’t have time to unpack right now, Spotify has chosen a side here, perhaps reaffirming what Roger Entner shared with Forbes: “We see so much misinformation because the platforms have no real interest in deterring it.”
This isn’t the first time that Rogan has caused controversy, and it certainly won’t be the last. Not even days after apologizing to Spotify, a Twitter thread containing multiple instances of Rogan using racist language went viral. He has since apologized for this (while also saying the clips were “taken out of context”), and removed several episodes of “JRE” from Spotify. But such acknowledgment is far from enough to dig him — or the streaming service — out of this hole. Spotify has faced backlash for a while over its poor treatment of artists. A song has to be streamed 236 times in order for the artist to earn one dollar through Spotify (for context, Apple Music pays artists a penny per stream). Meanwhile, Rogan’s deal with the platform paid him $100 million.
The context in which Rogan used these words doesn’t matter — he’s white, an adult and he knows it’s wrong. And yet several people came to his aid, trying to pass off everything he said as part of the job when working in comedy (which then, of course, turned into a meme). Sure, a comedian’s job is to be irreverent and can include saying offensive things, but that doesn’t mean you can be a bigot and not expect to be called out for it. Rogan’s “apologies” appear to be yet another example of someone only accepting responsibility because they’re afraid of losing their platform, which isn’t at all surprising.
Daily Arts Writer Hannah Carapellotti can be reached at email@example.com.