Revealed: Covid conspiracy theories spread on Spotify, Apple and YouTube amid Joe Rogan backlash

Exclusive: The Independent finds Covid branded a ‘con’ in podcast unearthed in the wake of Joe Rogan Spotify controversy

Simon Murphy
Chief reporter
Wednesday 02 February 2022 21:42 GMT
<p>Prominent anti-vaxxer Piers Corbyn referred to the ‘Covid con’ on a podcast made available by the streaming giants </p>

Prominent anti-vaxxer Piers Corbyn referred to the ‘Covid con’ on a podcast made available by the streaming giants

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Covid conspiracy theories that label vaccines “poisonous” and refer to the virus as a “con” have been peddled on Spotify, Apple and YouTube, The Independent can reveal.

Listeners to the Freedom Files podcast – which has been made available via the streaming giants – have been able to hear episodes featuring Piers Corbyn, one of Britain’s most prominent anti-vaxxers, without any content warning.

It comes after attacks on Spotify over its top podcast, The Joe Rogan Experience, which has been accused of helping spread Covid misinformation. Musicians Neil Young and Joni Mitchell both asked for their music to be removed the platform. The streaming service has said it will add a “content advisory” note to any podcast episode during which Covid-19 is discussed.

In one episode of Freedom Files, Mr Corbyn – brother of former Labour leader, Jeremy – references the “Covid con” and rants: “Vaccines are dangerous, evil, they’re about control and making people ill and then becoming dependent on future vaccines and making billions for Bill Gates and his cronies.”

Microsoft co-founder Mr Gates – a major donor via the Gates Foundation to fight Covid – is frequently cited by conspiracy theorists. After they were flagged by The Independent, Spotify removed two Freedom Files podcast episodes featuring Mr Corbyn but more than a dozen others were still available. YouTube also removed video versions of the two podcasts featuring him.

Lucy Powell, the shadow culture secretary, said: “Abhorrent anti-vax conspiracy theories are being allowed to proliferate online, putting our vital booster programme at risk. Streaming companies cannot simply put their hands up and take no responsibility for harms being perpetuated on their platforms.”

Shadow culture secretary Lucy Powell urged streaming companies to take more responsibility for their content

The Independent has found that Spotify, Apple Podcasts and YouTube have made podcasts featuring Mr Corbyn available to listen on their platforms during which he shares mistruths.

In an interview lasting more than an hour, dated November 2020, the 74-year-old referred to the “falsity of man-made climate change” and the “agenda behind the false story of man-made climate change”. He added: “The Covid story is just an extension of the globalisation schemes which have put forward both man-made climate change and the Covid con.”

Elsewhere, he claimed coronavirus was a “hoax”, saying: “There’s no extra illnesses or deaths other than would happen at this time of year on moving a five-year average. So there’s nothing going on, the whole thing is a hoax to control and destroy the economy.”

He said he recommended parents take their children out of school, claiming pupils were being “brainwashed” and “suffering horrendous mental torture”.

Moving onto vaccines, he added: “The bottom line appears to be the powers that be want to impose vaccines on everybody. Modern vaccines are poisonous and I don’t care if people say we’re anti-vax, we are anti-vax, we are totally anti-vax. Vaccines are dangerous, evil, they’re about control and making people ill and then becoming dependent on future vaccines and making billions for Bill Gates and his cronies.”

One of the podcast’s hosts falsely claims in reply that “we’re paying for our own death, our own genocide, it’s effectively what we’re doing, with the taxpayers’ money buying all these vaccines”.

Mr Corbyn featured on an earlier Freedom Files podcast, dated September 2020 on Spotify and Apple podcasts. It was uploaded to YouTube in November 2020. During the episode, which features discussion about a rally against coronavirus legislation, Corbyn said: “The important thing is we’re continuing our message, the underlying core of which is, it is a hoax. Once people realise it’s a hoax then they stop following contagion fear, and when that ends, the whole shooting match ends… listeners out there, think about that. If you’re not sure it’s actually a hoax just read some of the literature and you can see very clearly it is.”

Dr Stephen Griffin, a virologist at the University of Leeds, said: “It is sad and shocking to hear some of the claims made by Mr Corbyn, especially given the incalculable suffering experienced since the Covid pandemic began. Over 5.5 million people have lost their lives across the planet – almost certainly an underestimate – and there is untold longer term morbidity as a consequence of severe disease and long Covid This virus can make anybody seriously unwell, we have our vaccines to thank for the weakening of the link between infection and severe disease.”

He explained that “vaccines are not poisonous, they train our immune system to fight the virus in a way that doesn’t require it to play catch-up”. He described the suggestion that Covid is a hoax shows a “potentially deliberate lack of understanding”, adding: “I have a freezer full of the virus in our level 3 biological containment laboratory. It is astounding how some demanding what they consider to be incontrovertible proof that the virus exists continue to do so. It seems that the entry level certificate in armchair virology has a pretty low bar nowadays.”

A website for the podcast states in an “about” section: “Welcome to the Freedom Files, the home of free thinking and free living where Simone and I explore subjects which liberate the sovereign human being and empower those that are searching for solutions to walkaway from the matrix.” The most recent episode is dated November 20, 2020.

It is not known how many people have listened to the podcasts via Spotify and Apple. However, the first interview with Mr Corbyn from November 2020 has been viewed more than 700 times on YouTube, with the other watched on fewer than 100 occasions. The videos were uploaded to YouTube by an account called Event 202. Event 202’s website carries a video on its home page in which a man falsely claims that the coronavirus is a “scam”.

YouTube’s community guidelines state that it “doesn’t allow content about Covid-19 that poses a serious risk of egregious harm”, adding:  “YouTube doesn’t allow content that spreads medical misinformation that contradicts local health authorities’ (LHA) or the World Health Organization’s (WHO) medical information about Covid-19. This is limited to content that contradicts WHO or local health authorities’ guidance on… the existence of Covid.”

After being flagged by The Independent, a YouTube spokesperson said the videos were removed for violating Covid-19 policies. The channel which uploaded the videos has also been terminated, the spokesperson added. Since establishing Covid-19 misinformation policies last year, the spokesperson said YouTube had removed over 1 million videos related to dangerous or misleading coronavirus information. YouTube has policies in place on Covid-19 misinformation and conspiracy theories, hate speech and other harmful content, the spokesperson added. A video will be removed if it violates the policies, the spokesperson said.

A Spotify spokesperson said: “Spotify prohibits content on the platform which promotes dangerous false, or dangerous deceptive content about Covid-19 that may cause offline harm and/or pose a direct threat to public health. When content that violates this standard is identified, the appropriate enforcement action is taken.”

Apple’s content guidelines state: “If a podcast contains harmful or objectionable content that is disputed by authoritative sources, Apple may label the podcast to reflect the dispute.” Apple did not respond to a request for comment.

The podcast’s hosts have been contacted for comment. In response to questions about his comments in the podcasts, Mr Corbyn said: “I stand by everything I said”. He further claimed that, “many warnings I and others gave are now confirmed”.

Asked to justify his false claim that Covid is a “con” given that, according to Office for National Statistics figures, more than 175,000 people in the UK have died with Covid recorded on their death certificate, he said: “We must distinguish between ‘with’ and ‘of’ and recognise the official facts on ONS show the large number claims are lies.”

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