👎 Hey Joe

What the hell is Joe Rogan doing? | Crisis Text Chat are using their mental health data for profit

👎 Hey Joe

Hello masters of the internet. You may have heard that The New York Times bought Wordle. This is because even calm, harmless fun that we meme gently in our Twitter feeds has to become A Thing which makes money.

But anyway, this week was something I could have done without 👎. Why?

  • Joe Rogan kinda really fucked it with misinformation for a sec there, but Spotify’s platform power means that nothing material will come of this
  • Crisis (a mental health support line charity) has been passing it’s data to it’s for-profit arm loris.ai — prepare to be disgusted

📡 Hey Joe... you okay buddy?

Over the last few days, my newsfeeds have been frothing with Joe Rogan’s ‘controversial’ exclusive Spotify podcast, and how he should maybe be banned and also Spotify should get in the bin too, perhaps — there’s a lot of angry chat sloshing around about this, basically.

ICYMI: Joe Rogan interviewed a wonky virologist at some point last year, and some dodgy words about the Covid19 vaccine were spoken. Famous Music Guy Neil Young noticed the misinformation a few days ago, and then pulled all his music from the platform, thus causing a miniature media storm.

I’m not going to pick apart all the misinformation, because the BBC did a pretty good job of that already. However I will say that the calibre of misinfo we’re talking about here is: “This is not a vaccine, this is essentially a gene therapy” (spoken by Joe himself).

Joe Rogan has now apologised, and pointed out that he ‘didn’t know it was wrong’, sort of hiding behind the fact that he is just an interviewer who wants to have ‘interesting conversations’. He has also paused on releasing episodes, and other artists are starting to pull their music from Spotify in protest (Joni Mitchel 😢).

Okay, now that we have all the facts, here are my opinions:

🤦‍♀️ Joe Rogan seems to be forgetting that he is the host of an extremely popular podcast that Spotify bought the rights to for $100m. He has a huge platform — he is not ‘just a guy with a podcast’, which is how he paints himself in that apology video. Saying ‘I didn’t know it was wrong’ really isn’t good enough for someone like him. He has a duty to be accurate and clear, and to do his fucking research like real investigative journalists do.

🦠 I’ll admit that I don’t listen to Joe Rogan’s show because I don’t have any more cognitive space for a podcast hosted by a white man. But I’m aware that the draw was that he interviews everyone and anyone, to get a mixture of views and opinions from a wide range of professionals and experts. Okay well... when it comes to Covid19, we don’t need opinions, we just need people to take the damn vaccine so this can finally be over.

⚖️ This weird need for ‘balance’ in debates about issues that pose an existential threat to society is something I’ve never understood. E.g. a climate change denier does not need to be consulted when you’re figuring out what to do about climate change. You just need facts so that you can move forward. If you want to hear from people that you disagree with because you’re curious about different points of view, you can get a Mumsnet account for free — it really is that easy. We absolutely do not need to go out of our way to provide a large platform for spreaders of misinformation. What’s worse is how Joe describes all the conversations he has as ‘interesting’. Interesting in what way? In a provocative clickbait sort of way, or in an it’s actually interesting sort of way?

⏩ Of course, mixed into all of this is platform power. Spotify obviously have a great deal of influence over this situation because:

  • They are one of the biggest music streaming companies, and they have exclusive rights to Joe Rogan’s podcast. Spotify are the only ones who can effectively deplatform him right now.
  • Famous artists can use the platform to make a statement by removing their music from it — So in that sense, it works both ways. Spotify is now the only place you can listen to Joe Rogan, but also the only place you can’t listen to Joni Mitchel.
  • Just like all other platforms that host user-generated content, they will not remove Joe Rogan’s content, because it’s simply too lucrative. Rather, they’re going to add warning labels to content about Covid, which seems like the very soft compromise that content platforms seem to default to these days, instead of doing any actual content moderation.

I would say that this entire event will turn out to be pretty good for Spotify (because now people will scramble to listen to all the misinformation on Joe Rogan’s podcast), and pretty bad/confusing for the general misinformation and content moderation discussion.

🤥 How to train an AI with your mental health text helpline

Crisis Text Line is a text service that supports people who are struggling with their mental health. From the looks of things, Crisis uses AI to cobble together responses for it’s users, which means people reaching out for support won’t necessarily get to talk to a human right away — this alone makes Crisis kinda suck in my book.

But there’s more: this week it transpired that Crisis have been passing chat data to Loris.ai, which is the for-profit company with the same CEO. But it’s okay, because Loris.ai help people in their own way too, by creating ‘conversational AI for customer support teams who want to make their support more human, empathetic, and scalable’ 🤮.

NEWSFLASH, CRISIS: if you want to be ‘human and empathetic’ you need to use actual humans and actual empathy. Furthermore, in the private sector, making things ‘scalable’ has never helped anyone except for stockholders, so that’s interesting.

It actually sickens me to learn that mental health data gathered by a charity (which apparently helps people), has been shared with a private company so they can fine-tune their sorry piece of SaaS to produce enough dividends for everyone who owns stock.

Everything that Loris have said to make the situation seem better has only made things worse:

  • ‘The data is fully anonymised’ — yeah, no shit. I hope it was fucking anonymised; it’s data that pertains to conversations with people suffering from suicidal ideation. But even with that aside, ‘anonymisation’ is not a silver bullet to protecting someone’s identity.
  • They have pledged to share some of it’s revenue with Crisis Text Line — which, I would have thought, was implied. The least they could do is give money back to the charity after using the data for profit... don’t you think??

And on that high note, I’ll say goodbye. I hope I didn’t ruin your weekend!


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