Written By: Anton Sawyer
Analyzing The Joe Rogan/Spotify Covid Misinformation Controversy; Maybe We're The Problem
As humans, we are more than willing to die on a hill of some kind for our beliefs. Whether it’s in the name of equal rights, or even something as simple as sticking your neck out for a friend or co-worker, every day we’re given moral choices that pull out a little something extra in us. In many cases, it is these moral choices that define each of us as a person.
With that said, I’m really having a hard time understanding why the Covid misinformation scandal currently surrounding mega-podcaster Joe Rogan is the hill that so many musical artists and American citizens are willing to die upon. When you look at the psychology behind the boycotts of Rogan and others as they appear in the 21st century, you begin to see cracks in the foundation that is the human tapestry. Cracks that have allowed one of the most key components to these misinformation campaigns to be overlooked; ourselves. That is what this article is going to look at today: while examining the Joe Rogan Covid misinformation controversy, some of the blame needs to be placed squarely on us as American citizens. Yes, it is a bitter pill to swallow. But don’t fret, I do have a solution that I feel would have a much more positive, and more greatly impactful resolution than banning or boycotting.
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Before we delve too deep, I need to make it understood that the only topic pertaining to Rogan that is going to be discussed today is the Covid-19 misinformation. For those unaware, shortly after the Covid scandal began, he found himself in serious hot water over racial slurs that he’s used over the years during his podcast. I have no defense for the use of those racial slurs, and that topic is worthy of an entire article by itself as there’s just so much to dig through on that front.
Also, due to how much the mainstream media has covered Rogan and the levels of misinformation doled out by not only by himself but also his guests, I’m just going to cover the key points briefly.
At the end of January 2022, Canadian American musician Neil Young demanded his music be removed from the streaming service Spotify in an open letter that made the rounds on the internet. In the statement, Young says Spotify "can have Rogan or Young. Not both." This came after growing pressure had begun to mount against the streaming service. Spotify acquiesced and removed Young’s music from its catalog. In the weeks following Young’s letter, other artists came out as well to give the same ultimatum. Joni Mitchell and Nils Lofgren (the Bruce Springsteen guitarist) were some of the more notable artists who left.
It’s important to note that when it comes to Covid, Rogan has had the support of Spotify throughout. Though during this time there was a purge of over 100 episodes, this was due to the racism controversy specifically. Spotify CEO Daniel Ek has made it clear that when it comes to medical misinformation, none of the problematic Covid episodes are going to be removed, thereby ensuring his support behind team Rogen. Shortly after the controversy began Ek stated, “There are many things that Joe Rogan says that I strongly disagree with and find very offensive,” but “if you want even a shot at achieving our bold ambitions, it will mean having content on Spotify that many of us may not be proud to be associated with.” He continued, “Not anything goes, but there will be opinions, ideas, and beliefs that we disagree with strongly, and even makes us angry or sad.”
When you realize that Spotify gave Rogan a contract in 2020 worth over $100 million, the picture becomes a little clearer. Regardless of these responses, the backlash was still present.
Due to the negligent response by Spotify, first Twitter blew up with those who opposed the views of Rogan, then it was followed by an open letter compiled by 270 math and science professionals which was sent to Rogan addressing their concerns.
Since then, Rogan has come out and made various defenses of his show, claiming it’s his thirst for knowledge that propels which guests he chooses and which types of questions he asks. Even CEO Ek conceded a little and has stated that there will be a series of new measures aimed at addressing misinformation on the platform, including adding content advisories to any podcast episode discussing Covid-19.
These accusations and responses are fairly run of the mill for any celebrity who is caught in the crossfires of spreading misinformation. Whether their Covid philosophies are pro-vaccine or anti-vaccine, anytime a famous person’s controversial view is exposed to the masses, there’s a certain order of steps that follow:
You get the pseudo-apology (or the doubling-down if you’re someone like Kid Rock).
Everyone who opposes the view of that celebrity goes after any form of major income that celebrity receives.
By the end of the entire ordeal, it ultimately ends up helping their career via exposure.
We have seen this time, and time, and time, and time again. That’s why I wanted to look at this from a different perspective; one of accountability. Though I’m sure it’s going to be an unpopular opinion, I think maybe we should look at ourselves as a key contributor to the problem—in that we can’t parent everyone and trying to stop stupid people from doing stupid things isn’t a part of our “job description,” or even realistic. This includes even if the outcome leads to death. Stick with me for a minute or two and I think you may agree—I promise I’m not just a misanthrope who wants to see the world burn.
When I first started The Indie Truther, it was out of frustration at watching those with any kind of power be able to use deception in order to fool their followers into believing that which isn’t based in reality. The frustration stemmed from the fact that when overcoming my own personal demons with drug addiction, the very first thing that is drilled into your head is accountability. When asked “what got you into rehab?” The answer is always “my dependency on substances and their negative impact on my life.” You MUST accept that all of the problems in your life stems from one person: you. As I watched the Clinton and Trump political theatre play out in real life during 2016, I got inspired. I wanted to use all the knowledge I gleaned from the practical applications of deception I utilized when furthering my addiction in pointing out the exact methodology of the lies they were using. I was finding that many of the tools that my counselors used in diffusing lies being told both by myself and my fellow rehab-mates were able to work the exact same way towards the politicians of the US. When you’re in rehab, the next thing you learn after accepting your addiction as the core is to recognize your enablers. The politicians have an entire nation of them, depending on where you stand.
In layman’s terms: a drug addict needs an enabler to help perpetuate their addiction. A lie needs an enabler as well in order for it to proliferate. The American citizens are that enabler when it comes to spreading Covid misinformation.
The simplest, yet most effective example I can give you when it comes to this type of enabling comes from ex-President Trump’s injecting bleach debacle. In 2020 Trump said during a press conference, "And then I see the disinfectant, where it knocks it out in one minute. And is there a way we can do something like that, by injection inside …” Meanwhile, calls to New York City’s Poison Control Center for exposure to specific household cleaners and disinfectants increased more than twofold after the President’s comments. Data from the New York Poison Center center revealed that in the 18 hours after Trump’s comments, the Poison Center received 30 exposure calls about disinfectants. 10 involved bleach, nine were about Lysol, and 11 others regarding other household cleaners. Compared to the same time window last year, there were a total of 13 exposure calls, with two involving bleach, but none involving Lysol-type products. This trend also followed to the state of Michigan where during the same time period there were 65 Michigan poison center calls about exposure to household cleaning substances, including 16 calls about bleach and nine calls about disinfectants, according to data from the center. That was up about 86% from the prior weekend and 55% over the same span last year.
I know that to some, this fact destroys my assertion. That clearly, as an adult, you would know that you can’t inject bleach or disinfectants, yet there are still people who believed Trump, and therefore all misinformation needs to be kept from those kinds of people so they don’t wind up killing themselves. We have to ban the speech that can lead people to injure themselves is the mentality.
I understand that we as humans share a bond when it comes to placing value on human life. I get that life is precious and is hard enough as it is without some huckster on the radio trying to get you to buy into something that’s ultimately going to be harmful; that we should look out for our fellow man. But to what degree? To what degree is it my responsibility that because I may have read more scientifically accurate information regarding Covid, it’s my job to save everyone who may be easily duped by Rogan and his ilk?
It also seems that current trends in mental health show that most Americans are on my side when it comes to personal accountability. In a 2018 survey done by the Barna Group, 42% of all Americans surveyed have seen a counselor at some point in their life. Of those who have not seen one, 36% said they were open to the idea and would seek help if needed. One of the main portions of self-help is in taking accountability for your actions that lead you into whatever negative situation you’re in. If 78% of Americans have either gone to something or support something in which accountability is a cornerstone, then the thought of this trend spilling out on our society-at-large shouldn’t be too shocking.
Yes, silencing Rogan is an option. But as someone who places a high value on our First Amendment right of “Freedom Of Speech,” I will always oppose any kind of censorship. Because I’ve agreed to live in this country, I’ve agreed to its rules. Even language I am not a fan of, like the spreading of misinformation by Rogan and those like him, is still under protection and should be treated as such. Plus, in the grand scheme of things, even if you were able to legally silence all of those who are spreading this bad science, it’s not going to change much.
For example, in Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis is pushing a bill to pay workers public assistance if they refuse their companies’ requirement to get vaccinated against Covid-19. A provision of SB 2 would pay unemployment benefits at taxpayers’ expense to workers fired because they refuse safety protocols to help stem the spread of Covid-19. When you have the elected leader of a state pushing an agenda that shows how little he’s concerned about the spread of the virus, then there’s more to the story than just someone spouting some crap on “I Heart Radio.” With these kinds of leaders, to say that this massive sharing of bad science is mostly due to a podcast or other media outlet would be absurd.
If you wanted to get to the systemic problem, thereby helping good data to be disseminated to the largest amount of people, you have to look at the Fairness Doctrine of the United States Federal Communications Commission. From 1949 to 1987, this doctrine stated that opposing political views were to be given the same amount of time for holders of a broadcasting license. So, if a conservative pundit was given five minutes to give a talk of some kind, a liberal was given the same five minutes. This meant that there was a time in American history when you could watch the news and get both sides, allowing you to make an informed decision. In 1987, former President Ronald Reagan and his administration repealed it. It was muddying the waters of the Republican agenda as it’s hard for a GOP member to say that President Reagan is the best economic president in history, only to have that statement immediately followed by statistics showing we are at an 11% inflation rate. Removing the doctrine worked BIG TIME. In my opinion, the removal of the doctrine had the swiftest and most decisive outcome of anything Reagan did during his tenure.
Within 10 years of it being repealed, we got Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, and the Democrats lost control of the House for the first time in 40 years. Though I know there are many more viewing platforms available to get news and other information that has come around since 1995, there are still tens of millions of Americans who rely on those major outlets for news and information. If we saw that much change happen so quickly after its repeal in 1987, I’m sure that by enacting it (thereby forcing both the bad and the good science to be shown back-to-back), the positive outcomes would be swift.
I have never been a fan of the nanny-state idea. I understand the need for educating the public and doing everything that’s possible to keep an area safe for all who live there, but I’m also aware there’s a limit. We should either re-enact the fairness doctrine, thereby thoroughly educating everyone about all viewpoints, the facts and then letting the chips fall where they may. Or we should realize that some people cannot be saved from themselves and quit stomping all over the First Amendment for those who can’t be bothered to educate themselves.
No matter which option we take, we must accept that Rogan is nothing more than a scapegoat. Trust me, there are much more powerful people up the political food chain who are going to have enough blood on their hands from spreading misinformation to worry about than taking down the Alpha-Male.
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