TTP Report: COVID and Monkeypox Misinformation Thrives on Apple Podcasts
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: October 6, 2022
Contact: Michael Clauw, firstname.lastname@example.org, 202.780.5750
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Campaign for Accountability (CfA) a nonprofit watchdog group that runs the Tech Transparency Project (TTP), released a report revealing that Apple Podcasts hosts a staggering volume of misinformation about COVID-19—all in direct violation of the company’s own content guidelines. TTP found that Apple Podcast listeners can encounter encouragements to ingest bleach as a COVID treatment, conspiracy theories about the dangers of vaccines, and threats aimed at medical professionals treating COVID patients. Now, these trends are showing signs of repeating with the monkeypox outbreak—with purveyors of misinformation spreading conspiracy theories about that disease on Apple Podcasts.
Campaign for Accountability Executive Director Michelle Kuppersmith said, “Apple talked a big game about helping people during the pandemic, but its Podcasts app is among the worst offenders when it comes to potentially deadly medical misinformation. Over a million people in the U.S. have died from COVID, but that’s apparently not enough for Apple to remove known purveyors of conspiracy theories that have led so many to reject appropriate care.”
Apple Podcasts guidelines prohibit “content that may lead to harmful or dangerous outcomes.” They also bar “defamatory, discriminatory, or mean-spirited content” that is “likely to humiliate, intimidate, harass, or harm individuals.” In March 2020, Apple CEO Tim Cook made a point of saying he wanted his company to “play a role in helping individuals and communities emerge stronger” from the pandemic. TTP’s review of podcasts available on Apple’s platform show the company has fallen short on all of these points.
TTP identified 401 podcast episodes uploaded between February 2020 and June 2022 that promoted COVID conspiracy theories and falsehoods. Many of these came from well-documented spreaders of misinformation. For example, 90 of the 401 episodes featured at least one of the “Disinformation Dozen,” the twelve individuals identified in March 2021 as the source of roughly two-thirds of all anti-vaccine content on Facebook and Twitter.
Unlike its competitors Spotify and YouTube, Apple hasn’t acted to take down the most egregious podcast content, TTP found. This has given COVID conspiracists a platform to not only spread falsehoods about the disease, but at times wage targeted harassment campaigns against doctors treating COVID patients. The Stew Peters Show—which is banned on YouTube and Spotify but permitted on Apple Podcasts—is responsible for three of the four harassment campaigns against medical professionals identified by TTP in this report.
That same program has begun to expand beyond COVID misinformation to spread dangerous misinformation around monkeypox. On a May 31 episode—after beginning the program with a homophobic monologue about the virus—host Stew Peters echoed a popular conspiracy theory that monkeypox is a planned pandemic. TTP also found monkeypox misinformation in The Highwire with Del Bigtree—another program that appears to be banned on YouTube and Spotify, but inexplicably remains accessible through Apple Podcasts.
Ms. Kuppersmith continued, “YouTube and Spotify are far from perfect when it comes to their handling of harmful podcast content, but their choice to ban certain well-known misinformation super spreaders provides a sharp contrast with Apple’s lack of moderation. Of course, Apple’s permissiveness is also a choice, and it’s given the green light to those who spread lies around COVID to do the same with monkeypox and other diseases.”
Campaign for Accountability is a nonpartisan, nonprofit watchdog organization that uses research, litigation, and aggressive communications to expose misconduct and malfeasance in public life and hold those who act at the expense of the public good accountable for their actions.