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EDITORIAL: Joe Rogan controversy signals need to recognize misinformation

As more people have access to sharing content, we need to be increasingly cautious against misinformation

Recent controversy over Joe Rogan's podcast points to issues of news in the digital age and the spread of misinformation. – Photo by Daily Wire / Twitter

As the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic continues to spread throughout the country, some people have grown exhausted with misinformation and people who use their platforms to sow doubt about vaccines. Misinformation has become especially dangerous as social media has become more prominent.

While any social media platform must deal with accusations of allowing misinformation to spread, in recent weeks, Spotify has received increased scrutiny over its deal with Joe Rogan.

Rogan, who signed a $100 million contract with Spotify in 2020, is known for his Right-wing commentary and, since the pandemic began, his nonchalant attitude to COVID-19. Central to the controversy is Rogan’s influence: He is one of the most popular podcasters on Spotify.

As people continue to worry about the pandemic and become increasingly upset with those who are unvaccinated, musician Neil Young gave Spotify an ultimatum: remove Rogan’s content or take his music down. Spotify removed Young's music.

In the wake of Young's demand that Spotify removes Rogan's content and Spotify's refusal to do so, other musicians such as Joni Mitchell, have joined Young in removing their music from Spotify.

Spotify’s CEO Daniel Ek defended the company’s decision by declaring that “it is important to me that we don't take on the position of being content censor while also making sure that there are rules in place and consequences for those who violate them.” Ek has laid out an approach that feels reasonable: Streaming platforms should not be the gatekeepers of content, but they must make sure controversial content is contextualized.

As a result, both Rogan and Spotify have announced plans to address the concerns raised by Young. Spotify announced that it would add content advisories to Rogan’s episodes that discuss COVID-19, and Rogan announced he would try to bring on more experts to offer more balance on his shows. These are good first steps, but there should be more.

To be clear, Spotify should not deplatform Rogan. A move to deplatform Rogan would only allow the situation to further spiral and likely increase animosity on both sides.

Two things should happen. Rogan should more clearly take ownership for the misinformation he has allowed to spread on his show. Spotify, also, should make clear that Rogan's show – "The Joe Rogan Experience" – is not news, but entertainment.

If the podcast is clearly known as entertainment, it would signal that everything Rogan says does not need to be taken seriously. For the same reason that we differentiate between the nightly news and late-night comedy, Spotify must make clear that Rogan’s podcast is not the same as a podcast from NPR.

To that end, Spotify should also promote more actual news sources and opinion-based podcasts that remain rooted in facts. For example, Spotify could encourage listeners to subscribe to podcasts from The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal: While these outlets usually have different opinions on the news, they remain based on factual information.

While these are actions that Spotify can take at the corporate level, the problem of misinformation extends beyond one streaming service. The problem of misinformation will continue until we know how to approach news in the digital age.

Central to combating the spread of misinformation is for people to do their own research and to arrive at their own conclusions. While this goal might seem cliche or might seem too abstract, it is a key avenue to fight misinformation and to create a healthier news environment.

Technological literacy programs should be expanded beyond basic competencies in how to use technology and include training on how to read news and recognize false claims. The computer education of the 21st century should move beyond typing lessons and focus more on being aware of the dark underbelly of misinformation.

Especially as social media becomes more influential, it is increasingly important to be able to detect when things are false or misleading. Social media gives everyone access to creating and sharing content. Some people, though, create content for less-than-ideal reasons. It is incumbent upon all of us, then, to be able to sort through accurate information as opposed to spreading false information.

As students at Rutgers, we have the ability to take advantage of a wide variety of classes that can inform our opinions. Classes that can make us better readers and critical thinkers go a long way in ensuring that we are able to exist in a world that is constantly trying to sway us.

Despite Rogan's entertainment value, we need to be constantly cautious and do our own due diligence, especially when making decisions that impact our health.

The Daily Targum's editorials represent the views of the majority of the 153rd editorial board. Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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