Doctors, health experts and scientists battle COVID-19 misinformation on daily basis. Platforms like Facebook and Twitter have adopted policies in an effort to curtail rampant false claims, but some don't have rules in place. A group of 270 doctors, nurses, scientists and educators have sent an open letter to Spotify following a recent episode of The Joe Rogan Experience, calling for the streaming service to adopt a clear policy and to fulfill its "responsibility to mitigate the spread of misinformation."
On the December 31st episode of his podcast, Joe Rogan interviewed Dr. Robert Malone, a virologist who says he's one of the creators of mRNA technology. It's unclear whether that's true. During the chat, Malone made baseless claims about COVID-19, including the idea that "mass formation psychosis" led people to believe the vaccines were effective and the notion that President Biden had withheld data that supported ivermectin as a valid treatment. The episode quickly went viral among both critics and fans as Rogan averages over 10 million listeners per episode. YouTube removed a video of the interview and Malone was recently banned from Twitter for violations of the platform's COVID-19 misinformation policy.
"By allowing the propagation of false and societally harmful assertions, Spotify is enabling its hosted media to damage public trust in scientific research and sow doubt in the credibility of data-driven guidance offered by medical professionals," the letter explains. "[The episode] is not the only transgression to occur on the Spotify platform, but a relevant example of the platform’s failure to mitigate the damage it is causing."
In April, The Verge reported that Spotify was okay with a Rogan episode on which he encouraged 21-year-olds to not get vaccinated. A company source indicated the message wasn't "outwardly anti-vaccine" and he didn't "make a call to action," The Verge's Ashley Carman wrote at the time. Spotify has taken down more explicit examples of vaccine misinformation, including a song from musician Ian Brown and a podcast from Pete Evans. The company has said in the past that it "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." And that when something violates those guidelines, it is removed.
However, as this open letter points out, Spotify doesn't have an official misinformation policy like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and others. The group is asking for the platform to do just that, rather than to directly take action against Rogan or remove the episode in question. They want the company to create rules that would hold podcast creators accountable for the content of their shows.
Spotify paid a reported $100 million to lock down The Joe Rogan Experience as an exclusive podcast in 2020. The show was the most popular on the platform in 2021, both in the US and globally. When Rogan faced criticism over his choice of guests, including another example of pandemic misinformation in an episode with Alex Jones, Spotify CEO Daniel Ek said the platform didn't have editorial responsibility over podcasts.
"We have a lot of really well-paid rappers on Spotify too, that make tens of millions of dollars, if not more, each year from Spotify." Ek told Axios. "And we don't dictate what they're putting in their songs, either."
Spotify didn't respond to Engadget's request for comment on both the open letter and the company's misinformation policies.