Living in a seemingly post-truth age, when the trust in our institutions is at an all time low, seeing presidential candidates turn to the internet to get their word out is a welcomed change. While streaming services and social media influencers are still susceptible to the same corporate influence that is plaguing network television, it is uncharted territory in terms of reach and social impact. Mainstream media is all about airtime, adspace, “family-friendly” content, and expediency on all fronts. The constraints of mainstream media stifle the reach of all voices. The different platforms that have risen out of the internet age offer an alternative that is excitingly new, yet hosts its own set of problems as well.
This is apparent with Edward Snowden’s appearance on the Joe Rogan Experience (JRE). Snowden, the American whistleblower that revealed the mass surveillance conducted by the NSA, was not the guest that longtime fans of the podcast were expecting. The podcast’s subreddit was blowing up, and viewership exploded when it hit the front page of the site. One popular comment on the post is, “Anyone else say HOLY SHIT in their head when they saw who the guest was?”.
Joe Rogan is a name that has blown up in pop culture time and time again. The stand up comedian, MMA commentator, former television host and actor is mainly known for his role in NewsRadio, hosting Fear Factor, and now his pop culture phenomenon of a podcast. He has hosted guests ranging from Elon Musk to three different presidential candidates; he is willing to invite anyone he finds interesting on as a guest. Appealing to potheads, martial artists, gym rats, comedians, and men in general, Joe Rogan has cultivated a cult of personality that has caught the attention of people who will be in history books to come.
Snowden appeared on the show to promote his autobiography, Permanent Record. Shortly after it’s release, the United States Government launched a lawsuit against Snowden and the publisher for violating non-disclosure agreements. External pressures lead Snowden to consider alternatives to the usual gauntlet of talk shows and morning news segments. Despite initial hesitations to appearing on JRE, Snowden was sold by the episode that features presidential candidate Bernie Sanders as a guest. Snowden appreciated seeing Sanders get a space to talk about his policy because he is not given much time in debates and traditional media appearances.
Snowden explains, “[Corportized media] want you to be able to answer in 15 seconds or less. When we are talking about big massive shifts in society, about how technology controls and influences us in the future, you can’t have those meaningful conversations with those constraints”
This is the main reason why many are transitioning to using podcasts and collaborations with influencers to help boost their visibility. Besides the aforementioned Sanders, Tulsi Gabbard and Andrew Yang were also on JRE, with Yang’s campaign going into overdrive to reach niche hubs of the internet. Seemingly overnight, Yang has secured the fanbase of H3H3 production, a comedy/commentary Youtube channel, through his appearance on the podcast. They are one of the many influencers and personalities that have been swept up by the #YangGang.
Rogan is a personable host and great interviewer, but his show does have its problematic elements. When I say he will invite anyone on, I mean that he will give anybody a platform. Rogan gives exposure to a wide variety of political guests from all shades of the spectrum. His fanbase is receptive of Democratic candidates and conservative figures, aligning themselves around the moderate middle. While it’s great that he is willing to have a conversation with people who align with or are against his views, Rogan also gives unsavory guests a platform.
These potentially problematic guests include people like Alex Jones, creator of the conspiracy theory and fake-news website: Infowars. Infamous for his comments on how Sandy Hook was executed by crisis actors, Jones is well known for feeding misinformation and lies to his fervent fanbase. Rogan has also given airtime to Milo Yiannopolis, Ben Shapiro, Dave Rubin, etc. While they may not spew egregious lies (this video by SomeMoreNews on Ben Shapiro does make a good case on the contrary), these people are known to rarely emerge from the echo chamber of their conservative communities.
Having a variety of guests with differing opinions is one thing, but giving radical ideologues a platform to spew their misinformation and hatred without proper questioning of their ideas creates a platform that is ripe for radicalization. This is happening across the internet at an alarming rate. The name “Internet Age” means that people get radicalized through social media and online more often than they do by joining a real-life fascist group. Rogan doesn’t combat their ideas on streams, and instead allows for their ill-intent spill over to his community. The following video is a great primer for visualizing how these kinds of practices not only let a community to become radicalized, but how the host can become “red-pilled” as well.
Watching pop culture revolve around these vulnerable communities made up of anonymous yet extremely loyal fans makes the spectator uneasy. Platforms like JRE do not have their creativity held back by the shackles of traditional media; the personable presentation cultivates a more genuine conversation from guests, something that is surprisingly refreshing compared to overproduced television. Separate from these positives, radicalization through social media is a very real threat. It doesn’t help that shows like JRE promote guests that disregard facts for sensationalism and push their radical agendas.
I’m not calling for the ban of the Joe Rogan Experience. I simply want to raise these uncomfortable truths for your scrutiny. Hopefully, as humanity grows accustomed to the increased connectivity in this social media age, people will grow to be more skeptical and will understand how misinformed, fascist ideas are getting introduced to our zeitgeist.
Based in New Jersey, Vickram Singh is a staff editor for Honeysuckle Magazine, where he runs his column: Raised by the Internet. He is also the Managing Editor and staff writer for The Medium, the satirical newspaper at Rutgers University, where he currently studies.