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Cancelling Cancel Culture: “The Joe Rogan Experience” Case Study

written by FuturisticLawyer
February 10, 2022

“The Joe Rogan Experience” (JRE) is one of the most listened-to podcasts on Spotify with millions of monthly listeners and a faithful entourage that predominantly consist of twenty-something males. Joe Rogan, the man behind the podcast, is a man of many facets. Beyond being a podcast host, he is a UFC commentator, a former host on the TV show “Fear Factor”, a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt, and a stand-up comedian with a well-known weakness for psychedelic drugs and conspiracy theories.

Joe Rogan is part of a rare breed of male intellectual role models.  The same can be said about some of his previous podcast guests and good friends who publicly support him such as Jocko WillinkJordan B. Peterson, Lex Fridman, Russel Brand, and Sam Harris. They are all successful, mainstream names, rationally intelligent, and not afraid to voice their opinions. They stand out in a world where masculinity, common beliefs, and traditional values are put under scrutiny, questioned, and attacked – in no small part due to the influence of social media and technological development.

In this post, I will give a quick run-through of the recent controversy over The JRE on Spotify, and offer my thoughts on the situation with perspective to the phenomenon of “cancel culture” and freedom of speech.

The Spread of COVID-Misinformation on Spotify/Overview of the Case

The public case against Joe Rogan began to catch fire in mid-January after an open letter was published by 270 US doctors, scientists, healthcare professionals, and professors pushing Spotify to address misinformation on their platform. They directed their concern at the JRE podcast where several false claims about COVID and the COVID vaccines had been made: [1]

By allowing the propagation of false and societally harmful assertions, Spotify is enabling its hosted media to damage public trust in scientific research and sow doubt in the credibility of data-driven guidance offered by medical professionals.

In particular, the signers of the letter referred to a certain episode with Dr. Robert Malone, a highly controversial figure who has been suspended from Twitter and criticized for promoting falsehoods about COVID-19 vaccines and an unfounded theory that societal leaders have “hypnotized” the public.[2]

Other controversial JRE podcasts have been drawing attention from mainstream media as well. In one of Rogan’s podcasts with fellow comedian Dave Smith, Rogan stated that a healthy 21-year-old should not worry about COVID and that his own young children have not had serious side effects from contracting the virus. Dave Smith responded by saying that he would not inject his daughter with something just for “virtue signaling”. [3] Rogan has also been criticized for claiming that the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines are “really gene therapy” that makes changes to the human DNA[4], and he has also promoted the use of the drug Ivermectin to treat COVID, contrary to national health warnings.[5]

Spotify’s lack of policy for COVID-19 misinformation in regards to the JRE-podcasts did not sit well with the veteran musicians Neil Young and Joni Mitchell who both decided to remove their catalogue of music from the streaming platform in protest.

On the 31st of January, Joe Rogan published a video where he addressed the public concerns, explained the situation from his point of view, and reflected on how he could do things better in the future.

Since the public “misinformation case” against Joe Rogan and Spotify, the American singer and song-writer India Aries has attacked Joe Rogan on her Instagram story for using racial slurs on several of his podcasts. In the same breath, she criticizes Spotify for making a + $100 million deal with the podcast host, while implying they do not provide enough financial support for black artists.

Joe Rogan has since made a sincere apology for the resurfaced series of clips where he appears to use the N-word and tell racist jokes. He makes it clear in the apology video that the clips have been taken out of context.

During the recent controversies, more than 70 of Joe Rogan’s podcast episodes have been removed from Spotify.[6]  According to a statement from Spotify’s CEO quoted in the next passage, Rogan has removed the episodes himself. However, the controversial interview with Dr. Robert Malone that sparked the “cancelling-movement” is still publicly available on Spotify.

Cancelling Voices Is a Slippery Slope

The original criticism against JRE for spreading false claims about COVID on Spotify had a scientific basis. Then the phenomenon of “cancel culture” kicks in, and soon objective arguments are overturned by a regular witch-hunt.

Generally speaking, the witch-hunt begins with thousands of social media users that condemn, talk negatively, and pick up dirt about a certain public figure and his or her past. Eventually, the most incriminating dirt that “the social media mob” can find is used by the mainstream media to make targeted “hit pieces” on the individual for the purpose of gaining a larger readership and more revenue. In the end, the targeted individuals many times lose everything they have, including their lives, after they are dropped or “canceled” by their company, record label, movie studio, university, wife/husband, friends, and family.

The American lawyer Alan Dershowitz, who himself has been a victim of cancel culture describes the phenomenon well:[7]

“Cancel culture combines the worst elements of self-righteousness and judgementalism. Its activists and practitioners sit in judgement often on great people – musicians, artists, and scientists – who have accomplished much good in their lives, but their actions or ideologies have offended cancellers. Many of these who sit on judgement on who to cancel have accomplished little in their own lives. They can’t be canceled because there is nothing to cancel.”

In the light of everything, I think that Spotify’s response to its criticism and the calls to cancel Joe Rogan has been exemplary. Daniel Ek, CEO of Spotify, has responded to the accusations against Joe Rogan in a letter to his staff shared with The Wallstreet Journal:[8]

“(…) While I strongly condemn what Joe has said and I agree with his decision to remove past episodes from our platform, I realize some will want more. And I want to make one point very clear — I do not believe that silencing Joe is the answer. We should have clear lines around content and take action when they are crossed, but cancelling voices is a slippery slope. Looking at the issue more broadly, it’s critical thinking and open debate that powers real and necessary progress.”

One of Spotify’s solutions to combat the “misinformation problem” is to add content advisories to podcast episodes discussing COVID.[9] That would seem like an appropriate measure in proportion to the legitimate threat posed by Rogan’s unpopular COVID claims. Cancellation would definitely not be the answer. On the contrary, it would go against the firmly established principle of freedom of expression. According to Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, written shortly after the end of World War II:

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers. “

Freedom of expression is a foundational pillar for democracy, and with good reason, protected strongly and broadly in judicial courtrooms. In the EU, the right to freedom of expression extends to opinions that “offend, shock or disturb”.[10] In the United States, the First Amendment-right to free speech reach further than in the EU, and is considered to protect even so-called “hate speech”.[11]

Essentially, no liberal democracy could exist if individuals or groups of individuals were unable to speak their minds freely without censorship or intervention from authorities. In the context of “cancel culture”, the authorities are large intermediaries like streaming platforms, social media platforms, record labels, and technology companies. If these actors succumb to social pressure from the far-left and decide to deplatform or “cancel” any particular artist, they are effectively performing censorship.

In an ideal democracy, ideas flow freely and everyone could speak their voice and be heard. That is far from the world we live in today as global citizens. On the contrary, it seems like we are moving further and further away from that ideal. We are currently immersed in darkness. We prescribe critical power to anonymous people that may or may not be fake with ulterior motives hidden behind faceless accounts.

[1] See: An Open Letter to Spotify: A call from the global scientific and medical communities to implement a misinformation policy -> (10-02-2022).

[2] Ibid.

[3] (10-02-2022)

[4] (09-02-2022).

[5] (10-02-2022).

[6] (10-02-2022).

[7] Alan Dershowitz (Nov 2020), Cancel Culture: The Latest Attack on Free Speech and Due Process, pg. 28-29.

[8]  (10-02-2022).

[9] (09-02-2022).

[10] Case of Handyside v. the United Kingdom, Application No. 5493/72.

[11] Matal v. Tam, 137 S. Ct. 1744 (2017).

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