That is of course a silly question. Martin Luther became a transformational historical figure. I don't see Joe Rogan heading down that path. But there are also similarities worth understanding.
In 2009 when The Joe Rogan Experience podcast was launched most people had no idea who Joe Rogan was. If you watched UFC and Fear Factor you might, but otherwise not. In 2015 he had established himself as probably the biggest podcaster in the world. And of course in 2022 he was the topic of a major controversy with vaccine skeptic guests and the following backlash started by Neil Young.
How did Joe Rogan go from unknown to the topic of a global discussion? He was an early, and skilled, adopter of a new technology: Podcasts.
In 1515 Martin Luther was unknown. He didn’t even make the list of the top 100 professors of three rather obscure German universities. Four years later he was Europe’s most published author, well-known both among the clergy and people in general, and the topic of a major controversy in the Catholic church.
How did Martin Luther go from an unknown to the topic of that time's major discussion? He was an early, and skilled, adopter of a new technology: The printing press.
Bypassing the Catholic church
Martin Luther was smart in using the printing press. Everything he published was short and inexpensive to print. His 95 theses, of course, but also the 45 other works he published in 1518 and 1519 were often no longer than eight pages. The print shops made a quick profit and were fast to print new editions.
He wrote in German, a language that everyone understood, instead of Latin, that just a few people understood.
Back then people got information about the church, in the church, by the church. Luther bypassed that and went directly to the people and became such a major threat to the Catholic church that they excommunicated him in 1521.
Bypassing the news media
Instead of keeping the interviews short and edited, Joe Rogan could talk for hours with his guests. That, combined with his natural curiosity and not being afraid to ask 'stupid questions', gave the listener something new. An unfiltered discussion, that entrusted them with making up their own minds. They didn't get a polished product that implicity told them what to think, or especially what not to think.
Will people be misinformed without the gatekeepers?
The question we first must ask ourselves is: Are people more misinformed now with the internet?
At a first glance that might seem like a logical conclusion.
With the internet, misinformation is much easier to spread.
But... so are facts.
And thanks to the internet we can check facts for whether people are more or less misinformed. Matthew Iglesias did just that in a great piece: The "misinformation problem" seems like misinformation.
People being misinformed is a real thing and it’s bad.
But the idea of an internet-driven crisis of misinformation seems to be fake.
- No evidence of an increase in misperceptions
- No evidence of an increase in conspiracy theories
- If anything an increase in basic political knowledge
Has trust in vaccines decreased or increased?
At Warp News, we did a survey (in Swedish) and asked people if their trust in vaccines had increased or decreased since the start of the pandemic. For 34 percent the trust had increased, and for only 10 percent it had decreased. No change for the remaining 56 percent. This survey was made before the vaccine passes, so that might or might not change the outcome today.
Fewer gatekeepers are not dangerous
We shouldn't be so afraid of other opinions or even misinformation. I don't think misinformation is good. Heck, I run a website for fact-based optimistic news! But just because someone hears something that is wrong, doesn't make them immediately believe in it.
That doesn't mean that Joe Rogan is without responsibility for what he puts on the air. He can't hide behind 'just being a comedian', at least not with the great reach he has. After the Neil Young controversy he said was going to try to balance the guests better:
“I will do my best to try to balance out these more controversial viewpoints with other people’s perspectives, so we can maybe find a better point of view."
Not a fan of Rogan, just of spreading ideas
I'm not writing this because I'm a fan of Joe Rogan (I'm not) and want to defend him (I don't). I'm not a big podcast listener, I like audiobooks better. I first listened to him when he talked to Elon Musk, and then listened to a few of his other episodes. They were OK, but nothing more.
What I am a fan of is spreading ideas. When we spread ideas and knowledge it accelerates humanity's progress. I, of course, like facts and ideas based on fact-based optimism the most. But we need a mix. Ideas and truths need to be challenged. Sometimes new ideas feel like misinformation because they go against a well-established 'truth'. Sometimes it actually is misinformation and easy to spot.
We should always strive to be factual, but having the freedom to express our ideas is more important. That means we will have conspiracy theories, misinformation, and fake news but they are best countered with factual theories, information, and real fact-based news – based on a trust that people can think for themselves.