NEWS

Why the Joe Rogan Spotify Drama Is a Public Health Issue

the joe rogan experience spotify

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Key Takeaways

  • Joe Rogan is the latest public figure to be criticized for promoting COVID-19 misinformation on his Spotify-exclusive podcast.
  • Over 250 health professionals signed an open letter to Spotify, demanding the company to create a clear policy to moderate misinformation on its platform.
  • Experts say that misinformation isn't new, but it can affect someone's health decision and safety in a pandemic.

Some celebrities have spread health misinformation throughout the pandemic, with singer Nicki Minaj tweeting rumors that the COVID-19 caused erectile dysfunction last September, and host Joe Rogan consistently spreading false information about COVID-19 on his Spotify-exclusive podcast “The Joe Rogan Experience.”

Over 250 health professionals signed an open letter to Spotify, criticizing Rogan’s podcast for “promoting baseless conspiracy theories” regarding the pandemic. They demanded the company to create a clear policy to moderate misinformation on its platform.

After several singers pulled their music from Spotify as a form of protest, Rogan issued an apology via Instagram. Spotify has not removed any of the controversial episodes, but announced that it will be flagging COVID-19 related content with links to health resources, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Jason Diaz, PhD, a virology expert at LaSalle University, wrote on Twitter that he recently learned an unvaccinated family member had died from COVID as the Joe Rogan drama unfolded. In the tweet, Diaz said he wished he could have done more to address their hesitancy.

“It’s so hard when you have someone you’re trying to convince [that] there’s a different way of looking at something—in this case, vaccines—and have them be continuously resistant, and then you see an outcome,” Diaz told Verywell.

Diaz said he doubts his family member listened to Rogan’s podcast, but he’s one of the many people who struggles with confronting his family about misinformation during the pandemic.

“We’re seeing the consequences of that in multiple ways, not just coronavirus, but this one has particularly dire consequences,” he said.

Misinformation Is Not New But It Costs Lives

To combat misinformation, experts say it is important to call on scientific institutions for clear guidance, double check information through reputable sources, and have empathetic conversations with people who seem to be spreading fake news.

The phenomenon of spreading misinformation isn’t new, but social media allows false claims to disseminate much more quickly than in the past, Brian Southwell, PhD, a researcher at RTI International, told Verywell.

“You’ve got the ability of somebody to spread it pretty quickly to 1,000 of their closest friends on social media,” Southwell said. “The pace is different. The confusion over sources can be a little bit different. But I think the consternation we’ve had over misinformation is one that’s been with us for a while.”

Southwell added that the threat of misinformation varies based on the subject. It’s most dire if a piece of fake news impacts a person’s health decision or safety. It’s important for people and groups to calibrate their response to misinformation to the gravity of the topic, he added.

COVID-19 has taken the lives of more than 880,000 people in the United States. Despite studies and real-world data showing that vaccines are effective against hospitalization and deaths, vaccine hesitancy remains a major barrier in the country’s pandemic response.

Some people may be more vulnerable to believe misinformation in the pandemic than in other times due to fear and lack of trust that have been brewing throughout the past two years, Southwell said.

“It’s been scary,” Southwell added. “There’s a lot of emotion going on, and people have been concerned.”

A lack of clear and concise information from health officials may have contributed to the problem, he said. As research on COVID-19 continues to evolve, certain groups have called out federal health agencies for switching between recommendations or being vague on certain public health guidelines.

“The sciences continue to evolve and yet people have wanted answers right away because this [is a] frightening situation,” Southwell said. “I think that’s led to some of the proliferation of misinformation.”

Southwell added that the existence of misinformation isn’t the only problem. “It’s how people are responding, and whether or not there’s an ongoing conversation that respects the curiosity people might have had, or the concern, or the worry,” he said.

Tackling Misinformation on Social Media

While social media can facilitate the spread of fake news, it can also promote accurate information and public health messaging.

“Social media are often platforms that can be abused by people; they also can be used to good effect in terms of spreading useful information,” Southwell said, adding that he’s seen instances where people quickly squash online rumors.

Some social media platforms have policies in place geared at reducing misinformation. Instagram includes a “False Information” warning to posts that may contain fake information, as well as a link to resources from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on posts that reference COVID-19 or vaccines. YouTube issued a policy in October 2021 to remove videos that contained vaccine misinformation.

People who are unsure if the information they receive is true should consult another news source, like a reputable magazine or newspaper, or a search engine like Google, Southwell said. Taking time to fact check and compare different sources can be important before people share information on their own social media pages, too, he added.

What Can Health Authorities Do Better to Fight Misinformation?

Acknowledgment and Empathy

If people are interested in a piece of misinformation, the first step is to understand why they’re interested in it, Southwell said.

This applies to both individuals and institutions as taking time to listen and understand is essential for forming trust, he added.

“If you’re speaking as an authoritative institution and you’re saying, ‘I need to correct this piece of misinformation that’s out there,’ audiences also need to understand why you’re doing that and what interests you share with them,” Southwell added. “To what extent [does your audience] believe that you care about whether [they] live or die, or is there some other alternative ulterior motive?”

Empathy is key when listening to people who have doubts about vaccine safety or public health measures.

The White House has been criticized for downplaying the pandemic early on and failing to implement effective pandemic response. But rather than addressing the reasons for vaccine hesitancy, the current administration has blamed unvaccinated people and called the current crisis a “pandemic of the unvaccinated,” The Atlantic writer Ed Yong wrote.

Be Explicit and Clear

Being vague or making a broad criticism of a policy or a public figure can be unhelpful, misleading, or even a way to spread more misinformation.

The CDC, for example, has flip flopped between its COVID-19 guidance since the early days of the pandemic. The agency's recent move to shorten isolation time demonstrated an “incredible fragmentation of rules, ideas, theories," Dina Velocci, DNP, CRNA, APRN, president of the American Association of Nurse Anesthesiology (AANA), previously told Verywell

The CDC's muddled policy stance and public health messaging have allowed disinformation to proliferate throughout the pandemic. Establishing simple and effective public health messaging can be crucial for rebuilding trust between the institutions and the public, health journalist Dylan Scott wrote.

Get the Message Out There

If a health agency like the CDC wants to correct COVID-19 misinformation, it needs to “fight fire with fire in terms of exposure” in order to be heard, Southwell said.

“If you’re attempting to deal with a claim that’s received a Superbowl sized audience, and you’re posting something on a carefully caveated footnote on your website, that’s not going to get the job done just simply in terms of exposure,” Southwell added.

But just as misinformation is not new due to the pandemic, it likely won’t disappear even if Rogan’s podcast is removed. Going forward, forming more empathy and trust with other people and health agencies will be essential in helping people access fact-checked information about public health.

“There’s room all around for people to be doing a better job,” Southwell said. “Part of it is for scientific institutions themselves that can also be thinking about better work to engage public members so that people aren’t necessarily led astray by things that they might have heard on a podcast."

What This Means For You

When you read or hear about public health information regarding COVID-19, make sure to verify any claims before sharing them with your friends and family. Take your time to fact check and compare different sources to avoid spreading misinformation that could potentially affect someone's health decisions.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

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  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. COVID Data Tracker.