Comedian Joe Rogan’s Digital Audio Program It is the most listened to in the world. So when he shared his opinion about the covid vaccine with his 11 million listeners last week (he said young kids who play sports and are healthy shouldn’t wear it), there was such a stir that the White House had to respond by reminding the population that young people can also suffer the consequences of the virus and, of course, spread it to other people at risk. Rogan has ended up apologizing, but some of his followers still protest today before this “lowering of pants”. The most heard voice in America rarely kneels before anyone.
It is a case bordering on the veto, recently renewed by Facebook, of Donald Trump in networks for encouraging hatred. Or like when a group of 15 youtubers who spread fake news has sued YouTube for closing their accounts. The very right-wing Alex Jones was expelled from YouTube, Facebook, Spotify and Twitter for spreading conspiracy theories of the caliber that high school shootings are set-ups with actors or that China has labs where it creates humanoids by mixing people and animals. The latter is one of those he shared on Joe Rogan’s show during one of the three episodes to which he has been invited. Rogan considers him “one of the most misunderstood guys in the world.”
Both the expelled users and their followers denounce a “censorship” by the platforms, despite the fact that this term can only be applied when used by government forces. It is perceived as censorship because within the virtual universe of YouTube, Facebook or Spotify its moderators are as powerful as government forces are in the streets. But legally they are only private companies protecting what happens within their spaces. And not even Joe Rogan, one of the most influential people in the United States, gets rid of this trap: nobody can sign a contract like the one he has, of 100 million dollars, with a multinational like Spotify, and also demand independence absolute that I enjoyed before.
Rogan, a professional taekwondo fighter, began to get noticed as a stand-up comedian in the 1990s. He reinvented himself as a sportscaster and later as the host of a show in which contestants overcame challenges (like eating bugs) to earn money. In 2009 a podcast, The Joe Rogan Experience, which consisted of conversations of up to five hours with people (generally middle-aged white men) with lives or opinions that Rogan considers interesting. When she had Elon Musk In front of them for two and a half hours they were dedicated to smoking joints, playing with a blowtorch and discussing the possibility that we live inside a virtual simulation. Shares of Tesla were down 7% that week.
Rogan insists that he does not do interviews but “maintains conversations.” That is why he does not rebuke his guests when they proclaim theories such as that the COVID was created in a Chinese laboratory, that the world is ruled by a secret society of child traffickers cannibals or that both 9/11 and the arrival to the Moon are montages. . “It’s not perfect, but no one is,” Rogan said of her guest Gavin McInnes, founder of the violent white supremacist group Proud Boys. “He’s an interesting, weird guy who says funny shit.” McInnes said things like that Muslims are too consanguinated to be acceptable as immigrants.
That friendly talkative spirit turned against him when he invited Jack Dorsey, the CEO of Twitter, to his show, and just as he had done with his reactionary, paranoid or racist guests, he simply chatted with him without questioning his track record. But this time Rogan’s community criticized him for “softening” before Dorsey and not reproaching him for having expelled right-wing opinion-makers such as Milo Yiannopoulos, Jacob Wohl or Chuck Johnson from his network. A couple of weeks later Rogan took Dorsey back to her podcast to, for the first time in 1,258 shows, put a guest on the ropes.
Until now Rogan had eluded the controversy for two reasons: it was his guests, and not him, who were saying gossip and spreading disinformation, and he also broadcast his program from an independent platform. He didn’t have to answer to anyone. And that allowed him to be, as it is considered, a “freethinker”, “politically incorrect” and “neither of the left nor of the right”. Rogan defends progressive ideas regarding race, gender or sexual condition, but claims his right to use weapons to hunt his own food and criticizes the “extreme susceptibility” of the cancellation culture. The vast majority of his listeners are Republican white men, despite the fact that Rogan openly supported Bernie Sanders’ candidacy.
Its 11 million listeners are two million more than the most watched news program on American television, World News Tonight. That is why Spotify signed him exclusively last year with a contract estimated at 100 million euros as part of its expansion in the market of the podcast which includes names like Barack Obama y Bruce Springsteen, Kim Kardashian or Meghan Markle and Prince Harry.
As soon as the agreement became effective last September, Spotify removed 42 episodes from The Joe Rogan Experience because they violated their content standards. Several workers of the platform complained because there were still episodes where racist, transphobic or sexist comments were made. Rogan replied that Spotify has a lot of rap songs with worse lyrics.
In a Facebook video, Rogan reassured her followers that it was only a broadcast agreement, but that Spotify would not have any creative control over the show. So his recent apology (“I said stupid, I’m not a doctor, I’m a fucking idiot, a comedian on cage fights, a comedian, I’m not a respectable source of information”, clarified) has activated the alarms among his listeners: unlike other star signings, such as Obama or Kardashian, Rogan’s anti-establishment independence is intrinsic to his image and the main reason for his success and popularity. Losing even an iota of that independence, check by, distorts your identity.
But not its success. “For every disappointed fan you lose, you will gain many more listeners thanks to the worldwide speaker that Spotify offers you,” explains Luis Quevedo, co-founder of the production company of podcasts Cuonda. Control of information is part of the Internet game. “Since the end of the last decade, with the arrival of smartphones and applications, the vast majority of users move through the Internet as if they were on a road network: all the places he goes are absolutely private, in no way free. Internet is free, yes, but Spotify is not the internet. It is a private business ”, he explains.
The last stronghold of the hoaxes
According The Verge technology websiteIf the platform did not eliminate the episode about vaccines, it is because Rogan “is not openly anti-vaccines” and does not explicitly tell people not to get vaccinated. But their enormous influence turns their opinion into a matter of public health, which complicates Spotify’s work in deciding what is inappropriate content and what is acceptable.
Last January, Associated Press published a report which explained that, after the attempts by Facebook, YouTube or Twitter to eliminate hateful content, crimes and disinformation among their users, the podcasts they were the last stronghold of absolute freedom. When former White House aide Steve Bannon said in his podcast that they should behead Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Health, and Christopher Wray, director of the FBI, and put their heads on pikes, Twitter, YouTube and Spotify banned from their networks. But Apple, which works as a search engine podcasts, did not remove that content. Months later, in January 2021, Bannon summoned his listeners to go to Washington to protest the fraudulent elections and remove several members of Congress to allow a second term for Trump: Bannon’s War Room was one of the 20 podcasts most listened to by Apple.
Audio has played “a huge role” at the height of white nationalism, according to a 2018 Anti-Defamation League report, thanks to its “intimate and humane tone, which allows extremists to expose their ideas for hours.” A study by Zignal Labs concluded that after the expulsion of Donald Trump from all social networks for inciting violence, hatred and crime, disinformation on the internet fell by 73%. It is not a direct consequence, said fake news investigator Kate Starbird on American public radio, because on the same day that Trump was suspended, another 70,000 accounts were removed. What it does show is that closing hoax accounts effectively lowers their spread. The audio, however, is impossible to control, which has always been one of its main attractions. “It is much more difficult to detect fake news, there is no algorithm that identifies fake news by voice. Spotify is beginning to take care of what it publishes, through editorial work, so as not to become a misinformation forum like Twitter or WhatsApp, ”says María Jesús Espinosa, director of the platform. Podium.
Moderation is technically unfeasible. But there are also those who consider it politically counterproductive. This so-called “censorship” serves to fuel the paranoia of conservatives and their listeners, who are convinced that the system is after them. His conspiracy theory is so well put together that each new expulsion confirms his speech.
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