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Spotify faces new scrutiny after Joe Rogan’s Alex Jones interview

Joe Rogan aired a new interview with conspiracy theorist Alex Jones.
(Vivian Zink / Syfy)

A Spotify executive this week seemed to defend the appearance of conspiracy theorist Alex Jones on its platform, after removing the Infowars founder’s content in 2018.

Horacio Gutierrez, Spotify’s chief legal officer and head of global affairs, sent an email to team managers Wednesday about the episode of Joe Rogan’s podcast on Tuesday that featured an interview with Jones, saying the podcast platform would not ban specific individuals, a person familiar with the email said.

“Spotify has always been a place for creative expressions,” the email, first reported by Buzzfeed, read. “It’s important to have diverse voices and points of view on our platform. We are not going to ban specific individuals from being guests on other people’s shows, as the episode/show complies with our content policies.”

Spotify has faced a backlash online from listeners who said Jones was using Rogan’s show to spread misinformation about vaccines during a pandemic. The Swedish audio company had already faced criticism after Rogan last month claimed Caitlyn Jenner had become transgender as a result of the influence of the Kardashian family, and that California wildfires had been deliberately caused by left-wing activists.

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“We appreciate that not all of you will agree with every piece of content on our platform,” Gutierrez said in his email to Spotify managers. “However, we do expect you to help your teams understand our role as a platform and the care we take in making decisions.”

Rogan has apologized for spreading misinformation about the California wildfires. Local law enforcement said that emergency services had been diverted from helping the wildfires because of such conspiracy theories linking individuals to the spread of West Coast fires.

Spotify will now offer seven video podcasts, including ‘Higher Learning,’ ‘Book of Basketball 2.0' and ‘Fantasy Footballers.’

Spotify signed a licensing deal to air “The Joe Rogan Experience,” connecting the interviewer to its 286 million active users, it said in May. The deal is estimated to be worth $100 million.

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Podcaster Joe Budden’s exclusive contract with Spotify is ending, and he’s expressed concerns over how he has been compensated.

However, Spotify did not carry all the episodes. It excluded previous episodes Rogan streamed with Jones and other controversial individuals, such as Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes.

The company declined to comment on the Jones controversy.

Jones’ appearance comes in the aftermath of a move by major platforms including streaming giant Spotify in 2018 to remove years of content from the far-right conspiracy theorist and his Infowars platforms over allegations of hate speech.

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Jones’ shows have propagated hoax claims, including that the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School may have been staged, which led to death threats to the families of the child victims. Jones was sued by the families for defamation and ordered to pay $100,000. Jones has since acknowledged the killings occurred.

On Tuesday, Spotify aired Rogan’s new interview with Jones that covered issues such as vaccine safety. Rogan attempted to fact check Jones’ assertion that, among other things, vaccines were causing polio.

Rogan pulled up a report that the World Health Organization had said a polio outbreak was linked to an oral vaccine. He then commented on the photo of a baby being given an oral vaccine. “Imagine that kid getting polio from that vaccine,” Rogan said. “And a bunch of ‘em died,” Jones said.

The report is based on a WHO announcement from September of two cases of paralysis in Sudanese children in 2020. The WHO said the cases were linked to an outbreak of so-called vaccine-derived poliovirus type 2 that had started in 2019 in Chad.

But the WHO stressed that such outbreaks are rare and that vaccinations are highly effective at curbing the contagious and crippling disease.

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“The problem is not with the vaccine itself, but low vaccination coverage,” the WHO says in a detailed explainer of oral vaccine-derived polio. “If a population is fully immunized, they will be protected against both vaccine-derived and wild polioviruses. "

In 2017, WHO said that since 2000 more than 10 billion doses of the oral polio vaccine had been administered to nearly 3 billion children worldwide, preventing an estimated 13 million cases of polio. During that time, it said there were fewer than 760 vaccine-derived polio cases.

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For more than a decade, tech companies have built massive social media platforms on a simple principle: Take the power of publishing that was long reserved for traditional outlets like newspapers and television stations, and give it to everyone, without censorship.


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