270 doctors, scientists, nurses, and educators have signed an open letter to Spotify, asking that the streamer do its part to help stop the spread of COVID-19 misinformation by Joe Rogan’s podcast.
The final straw came when Dr. Robert Malone appeared on the New Year’s Eve episode of JRE. Malone was suspended from Twitter shortly before his appearance for posting a video declaring unfounded theories about the dangers of mass vaccination, specifically in children and young adults. He claimed to be the “Inventor of mRNA vaccines and DNA vaccines” on his LinkedIn page, but had no involvement with the development of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Malone spoke with Rogan about his self-created term “mass formation psychosis,” and argued that a “third of the population [is] basically being hypnotized” into wearing masks and getting vaccinated. AP News fact-checked his theory and found that such a term doesn’t appear in the American Psychological Association’s Dictionary of Psychology, and spoke with professionals in the field, including Stephen Reicher, a social psychology professor at the University of St Andrews in the UK, who said the phrase has “no academic credibility.”
Malone’s appearance is one of many concerns mentioned in the open letter. Rogan promoted the use of ivermectin after testing positive for COVID-19, a growing trend among those who would prefer to use a drug that hasn’t been approved by the FDA to treat COVID-19 in people, instead of a vaccine which has gone through numerous clinical trials.
Rogan suggested in an April episode that “healthy” young people shouldn’t get vaccinated, a statement he would later walk back. “There’s some legitimate science behind this … I’m not an anti-vax person,” he said. “In fact, I said I believe they’re safe and I encourage many people to take them. My parents were vaccinated. I said I don’t think that if you’re a young, healthy person, that you need it.”
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The letter touches on another issue, as it pertains to the age demographic of Rogan’s podcast. The average age of his audience is 24 years old, and a study from Washington State found that unvaccinated individuals between the ages of 12-34 are 12 times more likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 than those who have received their shots. Rogan’s own messaging and the people who are given a platform on JRE is creating a insurmountable level of distrust among his millions of listeners, the open letter argues.
“Mass-misinformation events of this scale have extraordinarily dangerous ramifications,” the letter reads. “As scientists, we face backlash and resistance as the public grows to distrust our research and expertise. As educators and science communicators, we are tasked with repairing the public’s damaged understanding of science and medicine.”
Spotify struck a multi-year exclusivity deal with Rogan worth more than $100 million in 2020. The letter believes the platform is responsible for allowing the spread of unchecked conspiracy theories to continue, and it’s on them to create “a clear and public policy to moderate misinformation.”
If Facebook can be held accountable for the spread of misinformation, so can Spotify — especially when there’s an identifiable source.