In a recent episode of The Joe Rogan Experience, the world’s most popular podcaster suggests that healthy young people don’t need the COVID-19 vaccine, contrary to the advice of health professionals trying to stem a pandemic that’s killed more than 3 million people.
Rogan said he believes “for the most part it’s safe to get vaccinated” and that his parents are vaccinated. But then he adds: “But if you’re like 21 years old, and you say to me, ‘Should I get vaccinated?’ I’ll go no.” The remarks were highlighted by Media Matters, which published a transcript of Rogan’s April 23rd conversation with fellow comedian Dave Smith.
A source close to the situation says Spotify reviewed this Rogan episode and left it live because he doesn’t come off as outwardly anti-vaccine. He also doesn’t make a call to action, this source says, noting that the company has taken down other, explicitly anti-vaccine podcasts and music. One show that was pulled said vaccines kill, they say, while another said vaccines cause skin conditions. Musician Ian Brown also had a song taken down in March in which he said the vaccines inserted microchips into people. In January, Spotify removed Pete Evans’ podcast over COVID-19 misinformation.
At the time, Spotify issued a statement saying: “Spotify prohibits content on the platform which promotes dangerous false, deceptive, or misleading content about COVID-19 that may cause offline harm and/or pose a direct threat to public health. When content that violates this standard is identified it is removed from the platform.”
The company declined to comment for this article.
Spotify brought The Joe Rogan Experience exclusively to its platform last year, and since then, he’s courted multiple controversies, particularly around remarks that have been criticized as transphobic. Episodes of the show have mysteriously disappeared, and Spotify employees have voiced their dissatisfaction at their employer paying Rogan and keeping his show live.
His recent recommendations on vaccines aren’t based in science. While older people are at a higher risk of contracting the most severe forms of the disease, healthy 21-year-olds can and do get COVID-19. Some might suffer long-term chronic symptoms after contracting the disease. And as more older people get vaccinated in the US, researchers have noticed that the demographics of the disease are starting to shift. In Michigan, which is currently a COVID-19 hotspot, hospitals are seeing more young people coming in with severe symptoms.
“I am putting more patients in their 20s and 30s and 40s on oxygen and on life support than at any other time in this pandemic,” emergency room physician Erin Brennan, told The New York Times.
Unvaccinated people can also put others at risk by spreading the disease. An unvaccinated care worker in Kentucky spread a variant to more than 40 people in a nursing home where they worked. The Pfizer / BioNTech vaccine has also been approved for people aged 16 and older, while Moderna is approved for use in people aged 18 and up.
Other tech platforms have flagged or removed posts, videos, and other content that spreads untrue vaccine information. Twitter, for example, labels tweets that spread misinformation. The labels include links to relevant information from official bodies like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the company says it enforces a five-strike system for repeat offenders that can lead to locked accounts and permanent suspension.
Meanwhile, Facebook removes posts that spread vaccine misinformation or anything that’s “debunked by public health experts.” This includes conspiracy theories — like vaccines containing microchips — and false claims about the safety, efficacy, ingredients, or side effects of vaccines.
Spotify has, so far, not introduced any label or banner on its content.