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What the Joe Rogan podcast controversy says about the online misinformation ecosystem : NPR



Joe Rogan, the comic, TV commentator and podcaster, reacts throughout an Final Combating Championship occasion in Might 2020.

Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Photographs

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Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Photographs

Joe Rogan, the comic, TV commentator and podcaster, reacts throughout an Final Combating Championship occasion in Might 2020.

Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Photographs

An open letter urging Spotify to crack down on COVID-19 misinformation has gained the signatures of greater than a thousand docs, scientists and well being professionals spurred by rising considerations over anti-vaccine rhetoric on the audio app’s hit podcast, The Joe Rogan Expertise.

The medical and scientific specialists slammed Rogan’s monitor report of airing false claims concerning the coronavirus pandemic, vaccines and unproven therapies, calling it “a sociological difficulty of devastating proportions.” Spotify, they are saying, has enabled him.

Whereas audio apps to date have escaped the scrutiny that has befallen social media platforms akin to Facebook and Twitter, the strain on Spotify illustrates how podcasts have emerged as an influential supply of misinformation.

In a December episode of his podcast, Rogan interviewed Dr. Robert Malone, a scientist who labored on early analysis into the mRNA know-how behind prime COVID-19 vaccines, however who’s now essential of the mRNA vaccines.

Malone made baseless and disproven claims, together with falsely stating that getting vaccinated places individuals who have already got had COVID-19 at larger danger.

The episode instantly raised alarm bells for Katrine Wallace, an epidemiologist on the College of Illinois Chicago’s College of Public Well being, who signed the letter. She is a part of a group of specialists who debunk medical misinformation on social media, and he or she says she acquired a whole bunch of messages from followers about Rogan’s Malone interview.

“Their family and friends have been sending it to them as proof that the vaccines are harmful and that they should not get it,” she mentioned. “It supplies a way of false stability, like there’s two sides to the scientific proof when, actually, there may be not. The overwhelming proof is that the vaccines are protected and that they are efficient.”

Rogan’s attain worries well being specialists

Wallace was notably anxious as a result of Rogan, a slapstick comedian and TV character, has such a giant viewers. Whereas Spotify doesn’t disclose how many individuals pay attention, his present ranked because the platform’s hottest podcast globally for the final two years. And he is value lots to the corporate: In 2020, he signed an unique licensing take care of Spotify reportedly value $100 million.

“We’re in a worldwide well being emergency, and streaming platforms like Spotify that present content material to the general public have a accountability to not add to the issue,” Wallace mentioned.

It wasn’t the primary time Rogan or his guests have floated doubtful or outright false details about the pandemic. He has claimed younger and wholesome folks do not want COVID-19 vaccines. He has promoted taking ivermectin as a remedy, which the Meals and Drug Administration has warned against.

Wallace and the opposite letter signers usually are not asking Spotify to kick Rogan off its platform. However they need the corporate to be extra clear about its guidelines, do extra to reasonable misinformation and make it simpler to flag these sorts of baseless claims.

Spotify declined to remark to NPR. It has beforehand mentioned it bans “harmful false, misleading, or deceptive content material about COVID-19 which will trigger offline hurt and/or pose a direct risk to public well being.”

The corporate says it has taken down 20,000 podcast episodes for breaking that coverage for the reason that begin of the pandemic. It has additionally taken down different episodes of Rogan’s present, together with an interview with conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. However Rogan’s Malone interview continues to be out there.

Final 12 months, Spotify CEO Daniel Ek told Axios that the corporate doesn’t take accountability for what Rogan or his friends say. He in contrast the podcaster to “actually well-paid rappers” on Spotify, saying, “We do not dictate what they’re placing of their songs, both.”

Rogan didn’t reply to NPR’s request for remark.

Researchers say scrutiny of podcasts is overdue

Misinformation researchers say it was solely a matter of time till the highlight turned to podcasts.

“Wherever you’ve got customers producing content material, you are going to have all the identical content material moderation points and controversies that you’ve in every other house,” mentioned Evelyn Douek, a analysis fellow at Columbia College’s Knight First Modification Institute.

So why have not podcasts gotten the identical sort of consideration as social networks?

For one factor, it is a fragmented medium. Podcasts exist throughout plenty of totally different platforms and apps.

Douek says it is also tougher to ferret out falsehoods and hate speech in podcasts in contrast with posts written on Fb and Twitter.

However audio could be a highly effective option to unfold misinformation due to all of the qualities that make the format so compelling to listeners, mentioned Valerie Wirtschafter, a senior information analyst on the Brookings Establishment.

“The podcaster is in your ear,” she mentioned. “It is a actually distinctive relationship in that respect, and so the podcaster beneficial properties a degree of authority and a degree of credibility amongst listeners.”

Wirtschafter says as extra folks turn out to be conscious of how misinformation spreads on-line, audio deserves the identical scrutiny as social media.

She has studied how the “Big Lie” that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from Donald Trump unfold on political podcasts within the lead-up to the rebel on the U.S. Capitol. She discovered that half the episodes of the most well-liked exhibits launched between Election Day and Jan. 6, 2021, contained deceptive or false claims about voter fraud and election integrity.

“We’re not speaking about fringe concepts,” she mentioned. “These are the most well-liked podcasts in america.”

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