Who is Joe Rogan and why is his podcast causing a problem for Spotify?

Joe Rogan and Spotify President Daniel EK Credit: AP
  • Words by ITV News Multimedia Producer Connor Parker

Accusations of racism and spreading Covid misformation have been levelled against one of the world's most influential podcasts, who is Joe Rogan and why is he creating headaches for Spotfiy?

The issues started in the middle of January when more than 250 US medical professionals signed an open letter to Spotify criticising Mr Rogan and Spotify for hosting Covid misinformation on his platform.

They accused Mr Rogan of being "a menace to public health" and urged him to moderate misinformation on his platform.

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The streaming giant came under increased fire when musician Neil Young asked to have all of his music removed, citing Mr Rogan’s “false information about vaccines” as a reason.

Then a week later, Mr Rogan was forced to apologise after a compilation clip of him using racial slurs during his podcasts by singer-songwriter India.Arie, who also removed her music from Spotify.The situation has put Spotify in a tricky situation and has forced its president Daniel Ek to speak out both to reassure his employees and investors.

What is the Joe Rogan Experience?

Although not as well known in the UK, the Joe Rogan Experience is still popular. For those who don't know, it is likely the biggest podcast in the world.

No definite stats exist to compare, but it is known that listeners for the Joe Rogan Experience often go into the tens of millions, whereas Spotify's other top podcasts often fail to reach four million - still a gigantic number in the podcast industry.

The podcast started in 2009 by then stand up comedian Mr Rogan and his friend.

The shows usually centre around Mr Rogan interviewing his guest for the episode.

Spotify has faced a backlash for hosting Joe Rogan's podcast which has aired anti-vax views. Credit: AP

The early shows were famous for being comedic as well as informative and often featured topics like marijuana which were not covered by other media platforms as much.

Since then the show has grown from 16 million downloads a month in 2015 to a monumental 190 million in 2019.

In 2020 Spotify bought the rights to host the Joe Rogan Experience on their platform, in a deal reportedly worth $100m (£74m).

Mr Rogan has attributed this to his commitment to producing regular consistent episodes as well as his ability to get any guest he thinks will be interesting.

His show has featured famous people like Kanye West, Bernie Sanders, Mike Tyson, Elon Musk and Edward Snowden.

Neil Young has removed his music from Spotify Credit: AP

He has, however, also featured controversial guests like the alt-right misinformation radio host Alex Jones and has faced criticism for not challenging their statements as thoroughly as a journalist with a platform should.

He has also been criticised for previously saying healthy young people shouldn't get vaccinated and promoting the use of ivermectin to treat Covid symptoms – an anti-parasitic medicine used mainly on horses that has not been proven to be effective for treating coronavirus.

What's been happening recently?

Mr Rogan has come under criticism lately for two separate reasons.

The first was when Arie posted the compilation of him using a racial slur on Instagram and announced that she was removing her music from Spotify’s streaming service because of it.The video led to Mr Rogan posting an apology on his Instagram saying it was the “most regretful and shameful thing that I’ve ever had to talk about publicly.”

But he said the clips were “taken out of context.”

“It’s not my word to use. I am well aware of that now, but for years I used it in that manner,” he said during the six-minute video on his Instagram account. “I never used it to be racist because I’m not racist.”

In her video, Arie said even if some of Rogan’s conversations were taken out of context, “he shouldn’t be uttering the word.”

“Don’t even say it under any context,” she added.The second issue Mr Rogan is facing is his decision to have two guests, Dr Peter Mccullough and Dr Robert Malone, feature on his show.

Both of them are very experienced doctors and medical professionals but have faced criticism for making untrue statements about Covid-19.

Since then Mr Rogan and Spotify have come under fire from the medical community for using his giant platform to air these views without sufficient challenges against their claims from the host.

Mr Young’s music is being taken down from the platform after he reportedly offered an ultimatum to remove either his work or The Joe Rogan Experience.

Mr Young said: “I am doing this because Spotify is spreading false information about vaccines - potentially causing death to those who believe the disinformation being spread by them … They can have Rogan or Young. Not both.”

Fans of the 76-year-old singer have since pointed out that he suffered from polio as a child due to there being no vaccine at the time of his birth.

Following Young’s exit from Spotify, fellow musician Joni Mitchell followed suit, saying it was in “solidarity” with him.

She wrote: “Irresponsible people are spreading lies that are costing people their lives. I stand in solidarity with Neil Young and the global scientific and medical communities on this issue.”

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex criticised the platform but said they would continue with their contract Credit: PA

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex have also been “expressing concerns” to Spotify about Covid-19 misinformation but say they will continue to work with the platform.

The couple signed a lucrative deal with the streaming giant to host and produce podcasts, estimated to be worth around $25 (£18 million), in late 2020.

In a statement on Sunday, the couple’s charity Archewell said: “Hundreds of millions of people are affected by the serious harms of rampant mis- and disinformation every day."

It is believed other musicians and content creators are thinking of following suit.

What have Spotify and Mr Rogan said?In response to the allegations of racism, Mr Ek said in a message to employees Sunday that Rogan's racist language was “incredibly hurtful" and that the host was behind the removal of dozens of episodes of “The Joe Rogan Experience."He said: “While I strongly condemn what Joe has said and I agree with his decision to remove past episodes from our platform, I realize some will want more,” 

“And I want to make one point very clear — I do not believe that silencing Joe is the answer.”He added: “We should have clear lines around content and take action when they are crossed, but canceling voices is a slippery slope. Looking at the issue more broadly, it’s critical thinking and open debate that powers real and necessary progress."

In his letter, Mr Ek also announced an investment of $100 million (£72m) to license, develop and market “music and audio content from historically marginalized groups," without giving more details.

It's the second time Mr Ek has been forced to speak out in response to Mr Rogan's podcast.Following Young’s reported concerns, Spotify said it aimed to balance “both safety for listeners and freedom for creators” and had removed more than 20,000 podcast episodes related to Covid since the start of the pandemic.

At the time Mr Ek issued a statement to say Spotify is working to add a content advisory to any podcast episode that includes a discussion about Covid-19.

Spotify chief executive Daniel Ek said a content advisory would be added to any podcast episode that includes a discussion about Covid-19. Credit: AP

Listeners who access content that talks about the virus would be directed to a dedicated website that “provides easy access to data-driven facts, up-to-date information as shared by scientists, physicians, academics and public health authorities around the world, as well as links to trusted sources”.

Mr Rogan also responded to the criticism against his podcast in a video he uploaded to his Instagram.

He said he was "very sorry" that people like Mr Young felt like they needed to remove their music from Spotify, adding he was a fan of My Young's music.

Justifying inviting the two controversial doctors on his show he said he was interested in hearing all the perspectives of an argument.

He said: "I do not know if they're right, I don't know because I'm not a doctor and I'm not a scientist, I'm just a person who sits down and talks to people and has conversations with them."

He added: "It's a strange responsibility to have this many viewers and listeners. It's nothing that I've prepared for. I'm going to do my best to balance things out.'"I'm not trying to promote misinformation, I'm not trying to be controversial."

Mr Rogan noted that he had Dr. Sanjay Gupta, the chief medical correspondent for CNN, Dr. Michael Osterholm, who is a member of President Joe Biden's Covid-19 advisory board, and Dr. Peter Hotez from Baylor College of Medicine all as previous guests on his show.

Mr Rogan admitted he could still do things better, saying he would try and get professionals with the consensus view to appear on his show right after having a controversial guest on.

He also thanked Spotify for backing him recently and welcomed the idea of advisories being added to shows about Covid-19.

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