More than 260 doctors, nurses, scientists, health professionals and others have signed an open letter calling on the streaming media platform Spotify to “implement a misinformation policy” in the wake of controversy over podcaster Joe Rogan’s promotion of an anti-vaccine rally with discredited scientist Robert Malone in an episode published on December 31st.
Rogan has repeatedly spread vaccine misinformation and discouraged vaccine use. The December episode attracted attention in part because Dr. Malone falsely claimed millions of people were “hypnotized” to believe certain facts about COVID-19, and that people standing in line to get tested as the omicron variant has driven record new cases of the virus was an example of “mass formation psychosis,” a phenomenon that does not exist.
We are a coalition of scientists, medical professionals, professors, and science communicators spanning a wide range of fields such as microbiology, immunology, epidemiology, and neuroscience and we are calling on Spotify to take action against the mass-misinformation events which continue to occur on its platform. With an estimated 11 million listeners per episode, JRE is the world’s largest podcast and has tremendous influence. Though Spotify has a responsibility to mitigate the spread of misinformation on its platform, the company presently has no misinformation policy.
After a similar incident in the past, Spotify CEO Daniel Ek refused to take action against Rogan’s podcast. “What I will say is we have 8 million creators, and hundreds of millions of pieces of content,” Ek said. “We have a content policy and we do remove pieces that violate it.” The company has cited Rogan’s podcast in past earnings calls as an example of its successes building a revenue stream in podcasts.
Another podcast that spread COVID-19 misinformation– hosted by conspiracy theorist Pete Evans– was removed by Spotify last year. According to CNN, at the time a Spotify spokesperson said that “Spotify prohibits content on the platform which promotes dangerous false, deceptive, or misleading content about COVID-19 that may cause offline harm and/or pose a direct threat to public health.”
Media Matters, a nonprofit that tracks right wing misinformation, noted that the rally Rogan promoted has sponsors that “include Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s anti–vaccine group Children’s Health Defense and The Unity Project, whose leadership board includes a veritable array of COVID-19 misinformers, including Peter McCullough, Paul Alexander, Tess Lawrie, and Pierre Kory.”
“This is not only a scientific or medical concern,” write the signatories to the letter, “it is a sociological issue of devastating proportions and Spotify is responsible for allowing this activity to thrive on its platform.”
Justin Hendrix is CEO and Editor of Tech Policy Press, a new nonprofit media venture concerned with the intersection of technology and democracy. Previously, he was Executive Director of NYC Media Lab. He spent over a decade at The Economist in roles including Vice President, Business Development & Innovation. He is an associate research scientist and adjunct professor at NYU Tandon School of Engineering. Opinions expressed here are his own.