Joe Rogan apologises after Spotify clamps down on Covid misinformation

Streaming app to provide accurate information amid backlash over podcast content

Podcaster Joe Rogan has addressed controversy over his Spotify podcast, hours after the streaming service announced a plan to tackle the spread of Covid-19 misinformation.

Mr Rogan, host of The Joe Rogan Experience, has sparked controversy for repeatedly spreading misinformation about Covid on his show, including the conspiracy theory that hospitals are financially incentivised to record Covid as a cause of death.

He has also promoted the use of ivermectin, an anti-parasitic treatment used mainly on animals, to treat Covid symptoms. It has not been proved to be effective at preventing or treating Covid.

In a 10-minute video posted to Instagram, the comedian and host pledged to "try harder to get people with differing opinions on" and "do my best to make sure I've researched these topics".

“A lot of people have a distorted perception of what I do,” he said, defending two recent episodes of The Joe Rogan Experience that featured guests who shared Covid conspiracy theories. He called these guests “highly credentialed people [with] an opinion that’s different from the mainstream narrative”.

Mr Rogan framed his podcast – which reaches an estimated 11 million listeners per episode – as “just conversations” which “started off as having fun and talking”.

“It’s become what it is today, which is some out of control juggernaut that I barely have control of,” he said. “Often times I have no idea what I’m gonna talk about until I sit down and talk to people. I am gonna do my best in the future to balance things out.”

He also apologised to Spotify. “I want to thank Spotify for being so supportive during this time, and I’m very sorry that this is happening to them and that they’re taking so much from it.”

The episodes sparked a fresh round of furore, including from musicians Neil Young and Joni Mitchell who pulled their music from Spotify as a result.

“I’m not mad at Neil Young,” Mr Rogan said, describing himself as a lifelong fan of the singer.

New measures

The chief executive of Spotify, Daniel Ek, released an official statement setting out the streaming platform's plan to tackle misinformation, as more users publicly unsubscribed from the service, more musicians withdrew their music and the company lost billions of dollars in market value.

New content advisories will direct listeners of any podcast that discusses coronavirus 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”.

Spotify’s rules for its creators have also been made public for the first time, with users told they cannot publish “content that promotes dangerous, false or dangerous, deceptive medical information that may cause offline harm or poses a direct threat to public health”.

Examples include calling Covid “a hoax or not real” or “encouraging people to purposely get infected with Covid-19 in order to build immunity to it”. Users who break the rule could see their content removed from the platform and repeat offenders could be suspended or banned.

“You’ve had a lot of questions over the last few days about our platform policies and the lines we have drawn between what is acceptable and what is not. We have had rules in place for many years but admittedly, we haven’t been transparent around the policies that guide our content more broadly,” Mr Ek’s statement said.

Mr Ek wrote that the content advisories will roll out “around the world in the coming days”. “To our knowledge, this content advisory is the first of its kind by a major podcast platform,” he added.

As of Sunday, Spotify had lost more than $2 billion (€1.8 billion) in market value and removed more than 20,000 episodes of podcasts that were related to Covid-19, in accordance with its “detailed content policies”.

Calls on social media for people to cancel their Spotify subscriptions have intensified over the last week. The company has not disclosed how many users have left, but a message from its customer support team to subscribers said they were “getting a lot of contacts so may be slow to respond”.

Spotify acquired Mr Rogan’s show in 2020, in a deal worth more than $100 million (€90 million). The Joe Rogan Experience is now Spotify’s most popular podcast and one of the biggest in the world. – Guardian