On Democracy Now, Alex Paterson explains that Spotify’s COVID-19 misinformation problem spans far beyond Joe Rogan

Paterson: “We identified an entire network of right-wing pundits and anti-vaccine skeptics who spread harmful misinformation”

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Citation From the February 11, 2022, edition of Democracy Now!

AMY GOODMAN (HOST): For more, we're joined by Alex Paterson, senior researcher for the LGBTQ program at Media Matters, and their self-described Joe Rogan watchdog. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Alex. You've said Rogan has 11 million listeners per episode. You've watched hundreds of episodes. I want to begin with the racism, with the N-word, and of course, that's also linked to COVID misinformation. But can you talk about what he has said over the years, the deal he made with Spotify? I mean, this goes way back. Spotify had to know what he was saying, what they were buying. 

ALEX PATERSON (MEDIA MATTERS): Absolutely. When Spotify cut Rogan a $100 million check to come on their platform exclusively, they knew what they were getting. And Rogan has delivered on that. He's continued to spread anti-trans hate, racist tropes, and sexist remarks on his podcast. I heard you play his apology video, but this week on his podcast, he said he was happy that that video came to light, and he called it a political hit job. He's made it clear that he doesn't have any intention of changing what he's — the lies and hate he spreads on his podcast, and it's far past time Spotify came to the plate and actually moderated the content on its platform.

GOODMAN: So tell us a little more about Joe Rogan for those who have never heard about him, how this whole story exploded.

PATERSON: Joe Rogan is a comedian and MMA commentator who rose to stardom in the United States first through acting and comedy. Then he was the host of Fear Factor. And now he has the most popular podcast in the world. He has 11 million listeners per episode, which is about four times as many viewers as broadcast cable TV news shows like Sean Hannity or Tucker Carlson receive per night. So what Spotify has on its hands is a serial misinformer that's reaching a huge, huge audience. And he’s not only spread hateful remarks on his podcast, but he regularly lies about the pandemic. Over the past year and a half, he's encouraged people not to get vaccinated, and he's repeatedly lied that mRNA vaccines are a form of gene therapy. And it's clear he's one of the most prominent COVID-19 misinformers in the U.S., and Spotify is completely failing to do anything about it.

GOODMAN: Alex, let me ask you about Spotify saying they’re keeping Rogan. They're not going to censor him. That's a slippery slope, the CEO Ek says. And also to repeat what India.Arie, the musician, said: “Spotify built on the back of the music streaming, so they take this money that's built from streaming, and they pay this guy $100 million dollars, but they pay us 0.003 percent of a penny.” 

PATERSON: It's simple: Money talks. And right now, Spotify is showing that above all else, it wants to profit off Joe Rogan's lies about the pandemic and his hateful bigotry. And it sends, clearly, a message to artists of who is most important here.

GOODMAN: In 2020, you shared a clip from Rogan's podcast when he lied and claimed left-wing people, I think he put it as, were starting forest fires, which led to outrage that led to Rogan apologizing, but Spotify didn't take any action. 

PATERSON: Yeah. CEO Spotify Daniel Ek has stood by Rogan time and time again. When Rogan lies about vaccines, when he spreads lies straight from Fox News. An additional point I want to make is that it's not just Rogan on the platform. We identified an entire network of right-wing pundits and anti-vaccine skeptics who spread harmful misinformation on the podcast. Steven Crowder is one. He hosts a podcast that is played on Spotify, and he recently proposed the ideas of “omicron parties.” That episode is still on Spotify, despite the platform having rules that explicitly prohibit people from encouraging others to get infected with COVID-19.

GOODMAN: What is Media Matters calling for?

PATERSON: We're calling for Spotify to publish and enforce robust rules around misinformation on its podcast – on its platform. If you look at Spotify’s current platform rules, it makes two mentions of COVID-19. It doesn't say anything about masks, distancing, preventative measures, or downplaying the pandemic. And then, and part of that, what I mentioned, is Spotify has to actually enforce these rules. This week, Joe Rogan downplayed the severity of children being raped. He said it would be fine for 13-year-old boys to have sex with adult women. Spotify doesn't allow content that suggests it's OK to groom children for sex. But Spotify hasn't done anything in response. We're just really asking them to take accountability for the content that they're creating.