Popular podcasting service Podbean has become a favorite platform for QAnon influencers, hosting and distributing dangerous, conspiracy theory-laden podcasts. The hosting platform has become a key piece of infrastructure for the distribution of QAnon content even though it seemingly violates Podbean’s terms of service, as well as those of its billing processors.
The popular podcasting service appears to have done little to curb the hosting, distribution, and amplification of conspiracy theory content utilizing its platform, all while profiting from hosting fees.
Podbean also plays a prominent role in QAnon podcast distribution on Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts, which themselves have failed to take action on Media Matters’ previous reporting regarding their circulation of QAnon podcasts expressing support for the deadly January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
Podbean’s role in the podcast distribution model (Podcasting 101)
Although casual podcast consumers may have never heard of Podbean, the platform plays a crucial role in the podcasting ecosystem -- and this is doubly true in the QAnon media space.
Contrary to popular belief, Apple's and Google's podcast platforms don’t actually host podcasts themselves. Instead, they act as distributors for content hosted by others. This means that in order to appear on these large platforms, podcasts must first have a separate hosting space. This is where Podbean comes in.
Podbean is one of the most popular podcast hosting and distribution services currently on the market, frequently utilized by amateurs and professionals alike. The platform is often favored by beginner podcasters owing to its low hosting fees and easy-to-use engagement analytics and export settings that enable distribution on both Podbean itself and other platforms such as Apple Podcasts.
Just as these services appeal to many aspiring podcasters, the ease of use, features, and low price point of Podbean attracts QAnon influencers looking for a convenient hosting method to spread their message. However, the real big draw for these users is Podbean’s lack of policy enforcement.
The QAnon conspiracy theory violates Podbean's terms of service
The QAnon conspiracy theory has served as a potent vector for misinformation ranging from election fraud conspiracy theories to COVID-19 denialism, predicated on the false belief that a prophetic insider posting on internet message boards was working in tandem with former President Donald Trump to take down a satanic cabal composed of global elites. The FBI has classified the conspiracy theory as a domestic terror threat and QAnon followers have been implicated in numerous acts of violence, including the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. QAnon podcasts have also been well-documented sources of extremist rhetoric, most notably expressing support of the Capitol riot.
Nevertheless, Podbean appears content to profit off of hosting QAnon influencers on its platform.
Hosting more than five podcast hours on Podbean requires a premium subscription, with most popular QAnon influencers hosting well above that number. Unlimited storage plans start at $9 per month and go up to $99 for additional features. Podbean also provides podcasters with a crowdfunding feature called Patron to receive recurring payments directly from listeners, which utilizes the Stripe payment processor. Podbean keeps 5% of the donation amount, while Stripe retains 2.9% plus $0.30 in fees on each transaction. Stripe previously cut ties with Trump's campaign website for violating its policies against encouragement of violence following the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
QAnon’s extensive spread on Podbean
On first glance at the site’s “Discovery” page, Podbean appears to host and distribute the expected arrays of mainstream popular podcasts, ranging from popular news dailies, such as The New York Times’ The Daily and The Ben Shapiro Show, to true crime shows such as Crime Junkie, and everything in between. However, it doesn’t take long to discover QAnon’s prominence on the platform.
Under the “Popular Podcasts” section on Podbean’s Discovery page, two QAnon podcasts, X22 Reports and BardsFM, make the top 5, with far-right ideologue Stephen Bannon’s show, War Room: Pandemic, occupying the No. 1 position.
The explicit amplification of QAnon on Podbean extends well beyond the Discovery page. When users attempt to search for any content through Podbean’s podcast search feature, the true spread of QAnon on the platform is laid bare.
Search results on Podbean do not appear to be algorithmically tailored based on the user’s unique habits, instead suggesting top searches based on its entire user base's aggregated search history. Here one can observe that QAnon consumers drive the trends, unwittingly exposing the listeners to content promoting the conspiracy theory. Based on these results, it appears that Podbean does little, if any, restricting or moderating of these search recommendations.
On Podbean’s desktop website, 3 out of the 10 “Top search” suggestions are for QAnon podcasts.
On Podbean’s mobile application, 6 of the top 20 “Top search” suggestions are QAnon related.
QAnon also dominates Podbean’s “Live” section, with one podcast proudly displayed at the “Top Host” position for January with over 521,000 likes.
QAnon influencers choose Podbean
QAnon influencers from other sites are also using Podbean as a reliable platform due to its lack of policy enforcement following the conspiracy theory’s deplatformings on more recognizable social media websites such as YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and more recently, Spotify.
Some QAnon influencers have been using the service for years, while others, such as Jordan Sather, have adopted the service only recently.
Accordin’ to Jordan: QAnon influencer Jordan Sather started using Podbean on February 3. (973 downloads, five episodes)
Praying Medic Podcast: Praying Medic is the most prolific QAnon influencer. He has utilized Podbean for many years and has been previously banned on Twitter, YouTube, and Spotify. (4.2 million downloads, 175 episodes)
X22 Report: Currently one of the most popular QAnon podcasts on the internet, previously removed from Spotify and YouTube. (Download numbers unavailable)
SGT Report: Popular QAnon podcast previously banned from YouTube and Patreon. (164,000 downloads, 15 episodes)
Pardon My American: Another QAnon podcast previously removed by Spotify. (525,000 downloads, 179 episodes)
BardsFM: Currently the most popular QAnon podcast hosted by Podbean. (2.4 million downloads, 258 episodes)
While Podbean is largely utilized as a hosting platform by QAnon content creators with the goal of distribution on larger platforms such as Spotify and Apple Podcasts, it also doubles as a distribution platform itself. Along with hosting and distributing content from its native QAnon influencers, Podbean also helps distribute QAnon podcasts that use other hosting platforms.
Red Pill News: QAnon podcast previously banned by YouTube. (Podbean distributes 82 episodes, hosted by Megaphone.fm)
Woke Societies: A QAnon podcast previously banned from YouTube and Patreon. (Podbean distributes 137 episodes, hosted by Buzzsprout.com)
Tore Says Show: Another QAnon podcast. (Podbean distributes 576 episodes, hosted by Simplecast.com)
Podbean isn’t the only podcast hosting platform spreading QAnon -- but it’s the biggest
Large podcasting directories such as Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts continue to serve as the key distributors and gateways for QAnon audio content, enabling unfounded conspiracy theories, extremist rhetoric, and medical misinformation to proliferate on their platforms. However, podcast hosting platforms such as Podbean represent a key element in this process, and they are arguably a more important piece of infrastructure in the QAnon content pipeline.
Podbean is not alone in hosting QAnon podcasts. Other podcast hosting providers, such as Megaphone, Buzzsprout, Simplecast, and Anchor.fm, are also responsible for hosting QAnon content advocating conspiracy theories and misinformation.
Attention must be brought on Podbean specifically due to its prominence in the far-right ecosystem. Not only is it the preferred platform of the biggest QAnon influencers, but it also serves as a host to other misinformation actors, such as Steve Bannon’s War Room (33 million downloads) and ex-Infowars conspiracy theorist David Knight (55,000 downloads). (ProPublica recently highlighted War Room’s presence on Podbean, despite the podcast seemingly violating the platform’s terms of service. The company did not return ProPublica’s request for comment.)
While it is unreasonable to expect podcast hosting platforms to be the only gatekeepers -- distributors need to police their own platforms as well -- hosts can stop the circulation of QAnon content at an earlier stage, automatically removing the ability for creators to distribute on platforms such as Apple Podcasts. While some QAnon influencers have developed their own infrastructure to host podcasts, this is a rare exception, as it requires higher levels of technical expertise. Deplatforming is not a solution to deradicalizing the existing QAnon base, but the practice is a proven method of limiting further spread of extremist messaging.
It is time for the podcast hosting industry as a whole to follow the example set by dozens of tech companies in tackling the dissemination of QAnon content head on in recent months. The fact that Peloton is doing more to combat the spread of QAnon than Podbean is evidence enough of Podbean's clear lack of initiative and commitment to fighting extremism on its platform.