Celebrity vaccine wars: the high-profile battles over misinformation

Neil Young has sparked a feud with the American podcaster Joe Rogan after waging a battle with Spotify to remove the latter’s hugely successful shows from the streaming service.

In an open letter to his manager and record label, the musician stated that Spotify “has a responsibility to mitigate the spread of misinformation on its platform” and offered an ultimatum: “They [Spotify] can have Rogan or Young. Not both.”

The Joe Rogan Experience is Spotify’s most downloaded podcast and is heard by millions of people every week. But during the pandemic, the commentator has “often peddled falsehoods… or hosted guests who do”, said The Times

Last year, one of his guests – the US virologist Robert Malone – “likened anti-virus measures in the United States to the rise of Nazism in 1930s Germany”, a comparison that led 270 scientists and medics to complain to the streaming service. 

But in the latest celebrity battle over misinformation, Spotify ultimately sided with Rogan.

It wasn’t a surprising choice. As The Verge said: “Who was Spotify going to pick: a musician whose heyday was decades ago or a zeitgeisty comedian who causes PR headaches but also commands a minimum ad spend of $1 million?”

Young vs Rogan is just the latest in a string of high-profile conflicts between household names over coronavirus misinformation. Here are four other public showdowns you may have missed:

Idris Elba vs Cardi B

In March 2020, Idris Elba criticised the rapper Cardi B for suggesting that celebrities were being paid to say that they had tested positive for coronavirus. The actor and his wife had recently tested positive themselves. 

In an Instagram Live, the Grammy-winning rapper had described such celebrities as sounding like they were in a “Flat Tummy Tea commercial”, which refers to “detox products influencers are paid to promote online”, said the Daily Mirror

Luther star Elba hit back in an Instagram Live of his own, describing Cardi B’s claims as “bullshit”. “This idea that someone like myself is going to be paid to say I’ve got coronavirus? That’s absolute bulls***,” the Mirror quoted him as saying. 

Annie Lennox vs Madonna

Madonna found herself in hot water back in July 2020 when Instagram removed a coronavirus conspiracy theory video she had shared with her 15 million followers. 

The video showed a Texas doctor claiming to have treated 350 coronavirus patients with hydroxychloroquine. The pop star had captioned her post with claims that a vaccine for Covid-19 had “been found and proven and has been available for months”, said The Guardian.

The Scottish singer-songwriter Annie Lennox was quick to criticise Madonna for sharing the dangerous conspiracy theory.

“This is utter madness,” she commented in a since-deleted Instagram post. “I can’t believe that you are endorsing this dangerous quackery. Hopefully your site has been hacked and you’re just about to explain it.”

Chris Whitty vs Nicki Minaj 

Perhaps no public conflict has been more bizarre than last September’s very public showdown between England’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty and Trinidad-born rap star Nicki Minaj. 

The unlikely spat was sparked by a series of tweets from Minaj questioning the safety of Covid-19 vaccines. It began with the Super Bass chart-topper announcing that she wasn’t planning to attend the Met Gala Ball in New York because of its vaccination requirement for guests.

Minaj tweeted that she would only get vaccinated once she felt she had “done enough research”. She then followed up with a now-viral tweet claiming that a friend of her cousin suffered swollen testicles and became impotent after getting inoculated against the virus.

During a Downing Street press conference that same week, Whitty was asked about Minaj’s claim. Speaking alongside Boris Johnson, Whitty said: “There are a number of myths which fly around, some of which are clearly ridiculous and are clearly designed just to scare.”

People “who go around trying to discourage other people from taking a vaccine which could be life-saving” by “peddling untruths” should be “ashamed”, he added.

Howard Stern vs Novak Djokovic

The US radio and television personality Howard Stern made headlines last week when he ripped into Novak Djokovic over the tennis player’s controversial stance regarding the Covid-19 vaccine. 

Stern called for Djokovic to be banned from tennis, describing the world number one as “that fucknut” and a “fucking asshole”. 

Speaking on his show, the 68-year-old broadcaster suggested that the 20-time grand slam winner should be kicked out of tennis entirely, said The Independent


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