This article is excerpted from a piece originally published on A Fresh Start, a project that explores the growing loss of trust in institutions. Follow The Fresh Start Project on YouTube and subscribe to the Substack.
These two developments are the result of a carefully executed influence campaign, and so I figured now would be a good time to go over how influence campaigns work.
(This is what they teach you in a strategic political communications class for an advanced degree. I hope you find it interesting.)
Joe Rogan, Dr. Robert Malone, and Spotify: A Case Study
Imagine that you are highly motivated to make people believe that the only effective way to beat COVID-19 is to receive the vaccine — a multi-billion dollar product that earns the manufacturers tens of thousands of dollars every minute. You would be against anything that leads to “vaccine hesitancy,” which includes promoting information that suggests that there are cheap and effective ways to treat COVID.
You certainly wouldn’t want experts like Dr. Robert Malone to have a platform, because he is saying just that.
Fortunately for you, Dr. Malone was prevented from communicating to his (small) audience of Twitter followers after Twitter banned his account.
That, for a time, was an effective containment option.
Unfortunately for you, Dr. Malone was able to bypass this gatekeeping measure. On Dec. 31, 2021, he sat down to talk with chatty and inquisitive comedian and MMA commentator Joe Rogan, which allowed Dr. Malone to spread his message to somewhere between 11 million and 200 million people.
This is cataclysmic for you. It’s time to go into emergency mode. YouTube, being a team player, promptly banned the episode. But Spotify, which bought the right to host the JRE in a $100 million deal in 2020, kept it up.
By allowing Joe Rogan to allow Dr. Robert Malone to share his information, Spotify is a god-level threat to the pro-vaccine cause.
To alter this state of affairs, you need power. Power, according to political scientist Robert Dahl, can be summarized like this: “A has power over B to the extent that he can get B to do something that B would not otherwise do.”
You know that Joe Rogan and Dr. Malone aren’t going to budge. That leaves Spotify as the malleable variable. The question, then, is: How do you (A) compel Spotify (B) to remove the Dr. Malone episode (w)?
Here’s what hasn’t achieved w so far.
- Some 270 “medical experts” sent an open letter to Spotify on Jan. 10, saying: “Dr. Malone’s interview has reached many tens of millions of listeners vulnerable to predatory medical misinformation… This is not only a scientific or medical concern; it is a sociological issue of devastating proportions and Spotify is responsible for allowing this activity to thrive on its platform.” The open letter had no effect.
- Neil Young gave Spotify an ultimatum: me or Rogan. Spotify chose Rogan. “We want all the world’s music and audio content to be available to Spotify users. With that comes great responsibility in balancing both safety for listeners and freedom for creators,” Spotify told The Hollywood Report. “We regret Neil’s decision to remove his music from Spotify, but hope to welcome him back soon.” All this achieved was Young losing 60% of his streaming revenue.
- Other musicians like Joni Mitchell and Nils Lofgren pulled their music from Spotify, and White House press secretary Jen Psaki ominously called on Spotify to do more to call out “mis- and dis-information.” These acts also did not achieve w.
A handful of medical nerds, aging and inconsequential musicians, and even a White House spokesperson did not have the social influence to compel Spotify to sacrifice its bottom line.
When your leverage over a target fails to achieve the desired result, then your next option is to expand the parameters of the conflict to enlist a larger support base.
On Jan. 31, musician India Arie — a black woman — announced that she would also be removing her music from Spotify in protest. But unlike the other musicians, her reasons weren’t just about COVID. “I find Joe Rogan problematic for reasons OTHER than his Covid interviews… FOR ME ITS ALSO HIS language around race.”
This was an entirely new attack vector on Rogan, and perhaps the most potent one in America right now. After the immense damage unleashed by the George Floyd riots during the 2020 Summer of Love, it’s clear that anything that could be construed as racism against black Americans is outside what is tolerable.
A few days later, Arie posted a compilation of clips of Rogan using the n-word. Immaterial to this development is the following:
- Rogan wasn’t calling a black person this term in any of the instances.
- In all uses, he was quoting someone else using the word or commentating on the usage of the word itself.
- At no point was he disparaging an individual or using it with hateful intent.
This context does not matter — the damage was done.
Rogan himself apologized. This itself is a massive cause for optimism for the pro-vaccine cause. By admitting guilt, he has made it easier for Spotify to justify distancing themselves from him.
The public pressure on Spotify has been increased dramatically by smearing him with COVID misinformation and racism. This might be enough to move the platform’s position and drop the Dr. Malone interview, and even alter the Rogan contract (perhaps not full-on cancellation but rather a Whoopi-style two-week cooldown period).
If such a result occurs, then you will have achieved a major coup in your campaign to ensure vaccine supremacy, and to protect the public from horse meds.
[Thus concludes our thought experiment.]
How to Survive a Hostile Influence Campaign?
Rogan could have responded to India Arie by rejecting the premise of her attack. He could have said that simply saying that n-word is not at all the same as calling someone the n-word. The distinction would have been lost on many Americans, but the independents and centrists would have understood.
The fact that he apologized put him on the back foot. There is at least this to say about it: he probably did it because of genuine remorse rather than calculated self-interest. He’s got a big heart and likely has come to agree that a white person shouldn’t ever say the word, no matter the intent.
Spotify, too, needs to get ahead of the conversation by laying out exactly why they plan on standing by Rogan (if they still do). They then need to say enough is enough and ignore further attempts to remove the Dr. Malone episode.
If Spotify can weather the onslaught long enough for the story to stop garnering infotainment appeal, they just might make it with both their $100-million investment and reputation (although worse for wear).
The rest of us can only learn from this experience. The lesson is this: so long as you can communicate, you still have power. (So never allow yourself to be deprived of all communication channels!)
Christian Mysliwiec is a writer, editor, and thinker based in northern Virginia. He is the host of The Fresh Start Project, which explores the loss of trust in institutions and how individuals can move forward toward a more self-sovereign life. You can follow him on Substack here.