Spotify has determined that its newly published platform rules, which it says have been internally in place “for years,” do not prohibit numerous dangerous and unfounded claims spread on The Joe Rogan Experience. Spotify publicly disclosed these rules on January 30 following widespread backlash at the platform for profiting off of Joe Rogan’s misinformation about the pandemic.
Over the weekend, Rogan issued an apology in response to widely circulated videos in which he made racist comments and repeatedly used a racial slur during his podcast. Rogan also instructed Spotify to take down over 100 of his past podcast episodes from Spotify.
Rogan’s Spotify podcast is rife with COVID-19 misinformation, hateful smears against trans people, and dangerous conspiracy theories. Yet the platform has fallen woefully short in its efforts to moderate Rogan’s harmful rhetoric.
Spotify CEO Daniel Ek has repeatedly defended Spotify’s failure to moderate Rogan’s harmful rhetoric. During a February 2 earnings call, Ek defended his decision to stand by Rogan, saying, “I think the important part here is that we don’t change our policies based on one creator nor do we change it based on any media cycle, or calls from anyone else.” And in a note to staff, Ek responded to Rogan’s racist language but noted, “I do not believe that silencing Joe is the answer.”
What’s more, Rogan has in the past repeatedly bragged that Spotify has not taken any action against his podcast, including asserting that “Spotify has never said a goddamn thing to me” and telling anti-trans advocate Meghan Murphy, “You can say whatever you want. We’re on Spotify.” It appears that this trend changed given recent controversy over racism and misinformation.
It is apparent that Spotify’s extremely narrow, apparently “long-standing” platform rules have done little to stem the flood of dangerous rhetoric that is spread across the platform. For example, the platform claims to prohibit “dehumanizing statements” about protected groups but hosts podcasts episodes in which Rogan says an anti-trans slur.
To illustrate this point, Media Matters has compiled a list of some of Rogan’s most bigoted and dangerous rhetoric since July 2020, which we present here alongside Spotify’s newly released policies.
Rogan has repeatedly spread bigoted rhetoric despite Spotify’s policy prohibiting content that incites violence or hatred toward marginalized communities
Spotify’s platform rules explicitly prohibit “dehumanizing statements” about protected groups, and the platform recently took action against episodes featuring racist slurs. Yet episodes remain on the platform in which Rogan has repeatedly used an anti-trans slur and suggested that accepting trans people is a sign of “civilizations collapsing.” The platform rules also prohibit “praising, supporting, or calling for violence against a person or group of people” while an episode remains in which Rogan has joked about killing homeless people.
Spotify has apparently determined that the following hateful and bigoted comments made on Rogan’s podcast do not violate its rules:
- On January 25, Rogan suggested that social acceptance of trans people is a sign of “civilizations collapsing,” while his guest, right-wing provocateur Jordan Peterson, equated being trans to having a “psychological contagion” comparable to “satanic ritual abuse.”
- On January 14, Rogan and his guests mocked Jewish people, asserting that they are “scheming” and “plotting the next big win.”
- On November 3, Rogan used an anti-trans slur, lamenting that “you can’t say t----y,” before his guest repeatedly used the slur. He also mocked the idea of a comedian using they/them pronouns, saying, “Imagine if there is a comic who gave into that.”
- On October 20, 2020, Rogan and his guest said an anti-trans slur then lamented that they can’t say it anymore.
- On October 6, Rogan called people who had criticized his guest on TikTok “retarded.” After his guest replied “you can’t say that,” Rogan said, “But I’m on Spotify. You can get away with it.” He also said the word on November 26 edition of his show and claimed that the word means “you’ve been held back in learning because you’ve applied the wrong kind of thinking to things. It does not mean someone with Down syndrome, and this idea that those two are ... the same thing and it’s a slur or it’s a terrible thing to say, that's not true. It's not right.”
- On August 20, Rogan derided an unnamed trans woman, saying she had a “terrorist beard” and that “there’s no way you’re a woman.” Rogan continued: “There are definitely people with legitimate gender dysphoria that want to be a woman, and they’re biologically male. And then there’s grifters. There’s crazy people. There’s people that have locked on to this movement.”
- On August 12, Rogan agreed with his guest Andrew Schulz’s comments when Schulz used an anti-trans slur and compared trans people to QAnon conspiracy theorists, asserting, “QAnon is just like conservative t------s. That’s really all they are.” Rogan also claimed that being nonbinary is “very, very self-indulgent,” and said that trans people are “not experiencing real adversity or, you know, real discrimination, so you create discrimination against yourself.”
- On August 8, Rogan used an anti-Chinese slur, complaining, “You can’t say Chinaman."
- On July 3, Rogan mocked and misgendered a young person who came out as trans to his friends. He also said that it’s “fashionable” to be nonbinary, later claiming, “It’s going to get worse.”
- On October 1, 2020, Rogan and comedian Tim Dillon joked about shooting, killing, and vaporizing homeless people.
Spotify’s COVID-19 medical misinformation policies are extremely narrow
In its so-called effort to “ensure that everyone has a safe and enjoyable experience,” Spotify says it prohibits content that spreads “dangerous deceptive medical information.” However, Spotify has allowed Rogan to repeatedly lie about the COVID-19 pandemic, including encouraging people not to get vaccinated against COVID-19, lying that mRNA vaccines are really “gene therapy,” and claiming the vaccine could have caused President Joe Biden to die.
Spotify’s platform rules claim to prohibit:
“Content that promotes dangerous false or dangerous deceptive medical information that may cause offline harm or poses a direct threat to public health includes, but may not be limited to:
- asserting that AIDS, COVID-19, cancer or other serious life threatening diseases are a hoax or not real
- encouraging the consumption of bleach products to cure various illnesses and diseases
- promoting or suggesting that vaccines approved by local health authorities are designed to cause death
- encouraging people to purposely get infected with COVID-19 in order to build immunity to it (e.g. promoting or hosting ‘coronavirus parties’)”
Spotify's list of examples is both too limited and too specific, potentially permitting many other dangerous types of misinformation, including about vaccines and masks. For instance, as The Verge's Ashley Carman reported, “These guidelines seemingly allow podcasters to say the vaccines cause death — just not that they are designed to cause death.”
This is reflected in the kinds of lies and misleading claims that Rogan and his guests have made with impunity on Spotify:
- On January 20, author James Lindsay questioned whether wearing masks is worth “the side effects,” including “breathing back in your gross mouth stuff and getting pneumonia if you’re, say, 6 years old.”
- On December 31, serial misinformer Robert Malone downplayed the efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines and claimed people have been “hypnotized” into trusting COVID-19 prevention measures. Malone then compared this hypnosis to methods used in Nazi Germany.
- During that same episode, Rogan claimed that the omicron variant is “essentially just a cold” and asked Malone, “Why is the vaccine uniquely dangerous to children?”
- On December 13, vaccine fearmongerer Peter McCullough spread numerous false and misleading claims about the pandemic. McCullough asserted that “it’s pretty clear that this [pandemic] was planned” and lied that “the virus is not spread asymptomatically.”
- On November 22, Rogan falsely asserted that children do not need to get a COVID-19 vaccine, saying, “They’re trying to say that children need it when they don't. They don't need it.”
- On October 12, “COVID contrarian” Alex Berenson falsely asserted that “people who are vaccinated with two doses are more likely to be infected with SARS-CoV-2 than people who are not vaccinated.”
- On September 30, Rogan baselessly suggested that President Joe Biden did not actually receive a COVID-19 vaccine booster shot on TV, falsely claiming that it would be unsafe and potentially deadly to do so on live TV.
- On August 20, Rogan falsely asserted that mRNA coronavirus vaccines are “really gene therapy” and lied that it is “not logical, it’s not rational, and it's not supported by science” to advise people with natural immunity to get a coronavirus vaccine. Notably, Rogan made the same false claim that mRNA vaccines are a form of “gene therapy” throughout 2021, including on August 18, September 21, November 8, and November 10.
- On August 6, Rogan fearmongered that vaccine passports would move the U.S. “one step closer to dictatorship” and lied that getting the coronavirus vaccine is not effective in preventing the disease, saying, “All you hear is take this vaccine that doesn't even prevent you from getting the disease, or you can’t go to the sauna or wherever the fuck you want to go. … If it was a vaccine that -- it’s more of a treatment than it is a vaccine, really, if you look at it.”
- On June 22, Rogan dedicated an entire episode of his podcast with Dr. Pierre Kory and Bret Weinstein to promoting ivermectin as a prophylactic and therapeutic for COVID-19, even though it is an unproven and potentially dangerous treatment for the disease. During the podcast, Weinstein claimed that a study showed “ivermectin alone, if properly utilized, is capable of driving this pathogen to extinction,” and Rogan explained its use for prevention of COVID-19, saying, “All it means is to take the drug to anticipate that you may get it, so if you’re in a high-risk area you take it and it’ll protect you from infection.” Kory claimed that “ivermectin is the COVID killer and should be the mainstay of any early outpatient treatment regimen.”
- On April 28, Rogan falsely claimed that any lockdown to prevent the spread of COVID-19 “makes things worse,” saying, “It’s worse. It makes things worse, you know why -- because people go inside. They are trapped inside and that's where it spreads.”
- On April 23, Rogan encouraged “healthy” young people not to get a COVID-19 vaccine, saying, “If you're like 21 years old, and you say to me, should I get vaccinated? I'll go, no.”