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  • Danni Darrah

The Spotify & Joe Rogan Controversy: The Fine Line Between a Difference of Opinion and Fake News

A comedian, television presenter, actor, fighting champion and podcast host - Joe Rogan.

How is it that such an accomplished man, who has dabbled in a wide array of occupations in the public eye, then comes under fire for his controversial opinions and racist slurs? How did Joe Rogan cost Spotify four billion dollars in losses, as well as experience the wrath of cancel culture?

An open letter was signed by 260 scientists and experts confirming the misinformation that had been mentioned throughout Rogan’s podcast, the Joe Rogan Experience. He’d openly spoken about his own opinions of young and healthy people not needing to get the vaccine, the conspiracy theory that the pandemic was pre-planned, along with other, arguably misinformed, claims. Following this, a long list of celebrities and artists, including Neil Young, Jodi Mitchell and Rosanna Arquette boycotted the Spotify streaming platform, by the removal of either their music or podcasts. It seems that this then catalysed a deep dive into JRE’s immense backlog of just under 2,000 episodes, uncovering clips and moments when Rogan had freely used the N-word with guests and compared people of colour to apes in one of his anecdotes.

Despite having many of his fellow celebrities’ support before all his behaviour came to light, many withdrew their defence when these racial slurs were uncovered and uploaded to social media. Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson tweeted “I was not aware of his N word use prior to my comments, but now I've become educated to his complete narrative. Learning moment for me.”.

However, when questioned about his decision to keep JRE streaming on Spotify surrounding the vaccine misinformation controversy, Spotify’s CEO, Daniel Elk, said that to remove the podcast would be impeding on freedom of speech and would be a “slippery slope”. Joe Rogan is renowned, and undoubtedly loved by many, for his controversial and outspoken nature, as well as the fearlessness with which he debates with guests. Could the fact that celebrities and musicians have called him out for voicing an idea about the COVID-19 vaccine be telling of how quick individuals are to ‘cancel’ rather than understand a difference in opinion? Or are they simply taking a stance against something that matters to them and something that affects the lives of countless others?

After these claims made the headlines and Spotify experienced the heat of the public attack, Rogan took to his Instagram page to issue a heart-felt apology, as well as remove 113 episodes from the catalogue available on the streaming platform. However, this apology did not address the opinions or the misinformation of COVID-19, focussing solely on the racial slurs.

It seems that, in a world where people are undoubtedly fearful of cancellation over what they say or do, Rogan stuck by what he said in his podcast on the vaccine by not addressing it at all. Rather, he dealt with this in a particularly on-brand way and spoke in a recent episode on JRE with Dave Smith about cancel culture, commenting on how individuals enjoy waiting for public personalities to slip up. He additionally brought Dr Michael Osterholm back on the show to clarify and continue a discussion on the variants of COVID-19 a year after their last episode. Some would say that handling the controversy the way Joe Rogan did only reiterates his self-awareness and self-assurance in the face of “fake news”, but others may claim that Rogan is being reckless and not understanding the severity of the situation.

Today, there is increasingly an overlap of fake news and opinion, with many condemning others for speaking out about an opinion they hold that may not be popular or politically correct. You wouldn’t have to dig too deep to find celebrities that have experienced this same backlash for voicing a less popular opinion—Molly-Mae Hague is a very recent example of this.

In today’s society, should we immediately ‘cancel’ those who may hold a different opinion to the status quo in fear of not conforming to the mainstream? Or are these opinions just too harmful for them to remain untouched and unquestioned?

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