Joe Rogan’s Deal with Spotify Should be Wrapped

Alison Tzianabos, Contributing Writer

(via Pixabay)

Irreverent podcaster Joe Rogan has found himself in hot water. Again. Rogan has been spreading misinformation about COVID-19 and, in a recent episode of his Spotify podcast “The Joe Rogan Experience,” Rogan interviewed prominent figure in the anti-vaccine community Dr. Robert Malone. His alarming actions led to musician Neil Young to pull his music from Spotify in protest, which was soon followed by other artists including Joni Mitchell and Bruce Springsteen.

The controversy developed even further when a video compilation of Rogan saying the n-word multiple times over a period of more than a decade was circulated. As a result, some 70 episodes of Rogan’s podcast episodes were removed because they contained the racial slur or other racist remarks. India Arie was the latest artist to pull her music from Spotify after this news emerged, saying, “He shouldn’t even be uttering the word. Don’t even say it, under any context. Don’t say it.”

However, in spite of Joe Rogan’s racism and vaccine skepticism, Spotify remains steadfast by his side. The music streaming service has promised to add a warning before any podcast episode that discusses COVID-19, is this enough to stop the spread of false information about such an important topic? I would say no. Companies must take a moral stance at some point to stop the spread of dangerous rhetoric and it can start today with Joe Rogan.

While everyone is certainly entitled to their opinion and freedom of the press remains a foundational argument in favor of keeping Rogan on the air, there is no constitutional obligation here. Spotify is a private company. They do not have to adhere to the Bill of Rights, especially since they are a Swedish company. And I suggest they do not. 

Despite what some politicians and academics may claim, not all opinions are created equal. Many “opinions” are egregious, and the garbage thoughts Joe Rogan airs out on his podcast almost daily are downright harmful. It is time for Spotify to develop some semblance of a spine and terminate their deal with Joe Rogan because of his racism and spread of COVID-19 misinformation. Unfortunately, I do not have much hope for a corporation to put people before their profits. It would be almost unheard of. But the spread of misinformation has real-world consequences, and it is time companies are held accountable. After all, this is not the first time this has happened.

Facebook has been under fire the past few years for contributing to the ongoing genocide of the Rohingya people in Myanmar. According to a class-action lawsuit being brought by a Rohingya woman living in Illinois, Facebook’s algorithms allegedly promoted anti-Rohingya hate speech and incited violence against the Muslim ethnic minority. The lawsuit alleges that the social media company failed to stop the spread of vitriolic content which directly resulted in casualties among the Rohingya people. It is clear how the spread of misinformation can have consequences for the people who use Facebook.

While this is an extreme example, I would argue that the Joe Rogan case is not too far off. The COVID-19 vaccines are life-saving measures that cut down the risk of severe illness and hospitalizations dramatically. Spreading false information about COVID-19 can jeopardize people’s lives if they listen to Joe Rogan and his fringe guests. Spotify should act immediately to end their partnership with Joe Rogan so they can save lives and not contribute to prolonging the pandemic.

But I am not naïve. Above all else, Spotify cares about making money. And they will do it at any moral cost. This is also seen in their severe underpayment of the millions of artists on the streaming platform. I do not think that adding a little warning to a podcast episode will prevent listeners from believing it. Spotify can and should do everything in their power to stop Joe Rogan and any other podcasters spreading misinformation because it can have serious consequences. But I won’t hold my breath.