Scientists call out Spotify for Joe Rogan episode with vaccine misinformation

13 Jan 2022

Image: © nikkimeel/

Doctors, scientists and fact-checkers are calling on media companies such as Spotify and YouTube to update misinformation policies around Covid-19.

More than 270 scientists and medical professionals have called on Spotify to crack down on misinformation, after the streaming service hosted an episode by US podcaster Joe Rogan which they claim spread false information and conspiracy theories around Covid-19.

Social media and streaming companies such as Facebook, Google and Twitter have been criticised time and again by the scientific community and governments for allowing the spread of misinformation on their platforms since the pandemic began nearly two years ago.

In an open letter published online, a group of scientists, doctors, academics and science communicators have called on Spotify to take action against “mass-misinformation events which continue to occur on its platform”.

In particular, they referred to a podcast episode uploaded on 31 December last year in which Rogan interviewed guest Robert Malone, a virologist and immunologist who now promotes anti-vaccine theories and has compared pandemic policies to the Holocaust.

Malone, who was banned from Twitter in recent weeks for spreading misinformation, made baseless claims about vaccines on the Joe Rogan Experience, according to the letter, and asserted that societal leaders have “hypnotised” the public.

“These actions are not only objectionable and offensive, but also medically and culturally dangerous,” the letter read.

The scientists argued that the average age of listeners (which number in the millions) of the Joe Rogan Experience on Spotify is 24 years and that, according to data from the US state of Washington’s health department, unvaccinated 12 to 34-year-olds are 12 times more likely to be hospitalised with Covid-19 than those fully vaccinated.

“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,” the letter read.

They added that doctors and other medical practitioners “bear the arduous weight of a pandemic that has stretched our medical systems to their limits”, a responsibility that is made harder to bear by Covid and vaccine misinformation.

YouTube a ‘major conduit’

Spotify is not the only media platform being called on to tackle misinformation. A group of global fact-checkers has written another open letter, this time to video giant YouTube, asking it to crack down on Covid-19 misinformation on its platform.

Addressed to YouTube chief executive Susan Wojcicki, the letter by the International Fact-Checking Network called YouTube “one of the major conduits of online disinformation and misinformation worldwide” and said its lack of strict misinformation moderation is a cause of major concern for the fact-checking community.

“What we do not see is much effort by YouTube to implement policies that address the problem. On the contrary, YouTube is allowing its platform to be weaponised by unscrupulous actors to manipulate and exploit others, and to organise and fundraise themselves,” the letter read.

YouTube pledged last year to block all anti-vaccine content, including but not limited to Covid-19 vaccination misinformation. It also removed the Joe Rogan Experience interview with Malone from its platform.

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Vish Gain is a journalist with Silicon Republic