There are lots of people up in arms about Spotify’s position on Joe Rogan’s vaccine misinformation. And although there are multiple players in this drama, I’m impressed by the professionalism with which Rogan is capitalizing on the underlying shame machine.
Let’s start with Rogan’s publisher, Spotify. The CEO is trying to distance himself from the kerfuffle by making some claim to avoiding censorship, a familiar dance we’ve heard again and again by platforms that like making money from edgy content but want no accountability. But Spotify is in a different situation: they pay Joe Rogan for content and are thereby traditional publishers, with responsibility for content. They should assume that responsibility and stop trying to wriggle out of it.
But that begs the question, why are they so uncomfortable with making money from Joe Rogan’s podcast? After all, they are a business and they intend to be profitable. The answer is, they don’t actually want to admit they make money from shame and outrage. They want to claim some vague thing about giving people what they want and what entertains them, which helps them cleanse their conscience.
In other words, they are part of the shame machine but they don’t like admitting it.
Joe Rogan, on the other hand, seems well aware of what he offers: an opportunity to cross boundaries, get tons of attention, and make money. For the people who agree, they’re feeling seen. For the people who disagree and are outraged, that too is a success for Rogan. He is, I would suggest, a savvy shame machine master. His pseudo apology and suggestion that he’ll have balancing views is the minimum required for him to maintain his contract and continue to profit from the shame machine that he steers.
Seen this way, we should predict professional shame machine players like Rogan to navigate the shaming waters like sharks that taste blood. Wherever there’s attention to grab, he’ll be there, whipping up a frenzy and feeding off of the outrage cycle.