Joe Rogan amplifies fake tweet targeting Florida doctor

Podcast host Joe Rogan and conservative commentators have amplified an image that appears to show a doctor from the US state of Florida tweeting that she would not regret getting the Covid-19 vaccine "even if it turns out I injected actual poison." But the supposed post is fabricated; the physician confirmed to AFP that she did not author it, and Rogan has since acknowledged the error.

"A woman tweeted this, and she's a doctor," Rogan said on the January 4, 2023 episode of "The Joe Rogan Experience," the most popular podcast on Spotify.

Rogan discussed the purported post for more than 10 minutes with guest Bret Weinstein, a former professor of evolutionary biology and Covid-19 vaccine skeptic.

Attributed to Natalia Solenkova, a critical care medicine specialist in Florida, it says: "I will never regret the vaccine. Even if it turns out I injected actual poison and have only days to live. My heart and is (sic) was in the right place. I got vaccinated out of love, while antivaxxers did everything out of hate. If I have to die because of my love for the world, then so be it. But I will never regret or apologize for it."

Screenshot of "The Joe Rogan Experience" taken from Dailymotion on January 6, 2023

Rogan, who went on to cast doubt on the safety and efficacy of the shots, said after reading the alleged tweet: "It's a fascinating perspective, and it's also a fascinating perspective that this person claims to be about love but has the most uncharitable view of people who didn't get vaccinated."

Before reaching Rogan's podcast, the image of the supposed tweet circulated on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram -- promoted in part by prominent conservatives such as Jenna Ellis, a former lawyer for Donald Trump, and Christina Pushaw, a spokeswoman for Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. The claim gained more traction after Rogan gave it air time, fueling a harassment campaign targeting the physician's reputation across the internet.

Screenshot taken from Twitter on January 6, 2023

But the tweet credited to Solenkova is a digital fabrication, the doctor and her attorney confirmed to AFP.

In posts on her now-private Twitter account she called the image a "photoedit" showing a "fake tweet fraudulently made under my authorship."

AFP reviewed her account where she repeatedly petitioned the platform to take action.

Screenshot from Twitter taken on January 6, 2023

Screenshot from Twitter taken on January 6, 2023

 

 

"It is an absolutely fake tweet," Solenkova told AFP in an interview, saying someone took her Twitter handle, name and profile picture and attached the text. "No part of that tweet I wrote."

In fact, the alleged post could not be authentic; at 333 characters, the text extends beyond Twitter's 280-character limit.

Screenshot from Twitter taken on January 6, 2023

In a January 5 tweet, Rogan acknowledged that he had been duped.

"I was informed last night that this tweet is fake," he said. "The show was already out, so we initially decided to post a notice saying we got tricked, then later thought it best to just delete it from the episode. My sincere apologies to everyone, especially the person who got hoaxed."

Weinstein also conceded the error, tweeting that the supposed post "turns out not to be authentic."

But by then, the damage was done.

'He's butchering my name'

The first post that Solenkova saw sharing the made-up tweet came from Paul Ray Ramsey, a far-right internet personality who has spoken at white supremacist conferences.

Ramsey told NBC News he saw the image elsewhere on the web. His post has since been deleted.

Screenshot taken from Twitter on January 6, 2023

"Then Joe Rogan takes (an) unconfirmed tweet from a white nationalist, and puts the whole podcast about vaccines," Solenkova said. "And 11 minutes, he's butchering my name. He's showing my face. He didn't reach out to me."

Solenkova, who like many doctors gained thousands of Twitter followers over the course of the pandemic, said harassment flooded her inboxes on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter. She was overwhelmed by messages calling for her to lose her job and medical license. Some falsely accused her of deleting the alleged tweet.

Solenkova said she worries about the fake post becoming a mainstay of Google searches for her name or forming the basis of complaints to medical boards.

"This is the number one podcast in the world. He spent 11 and a half minutes talking about her, disparaging her, and he didn't take five seconds to verify any of it," said Daniel Uhlfelder, Solenkova's attorney and a former Democratic candidate for Florida attorney general. "This is a physician who has been accused of referring to vaccines as poison. You can't overstate the negative impact that this could have."

Uhlfelder said they are exploring options for potential legal recourse. On January 6, he sent Rogan a pre-suit cease letter demanding the withdrawal of his statements about Solenkova and an apology.

Reached by AFP, a Spotify representative for Rogan declined to comment.

Fake tweet remains online

The incident comes after Twitter in November 2022 quit enforcing a policy against Covid-19 misinformation. Elon Musk, who took over the company in late October, has also allowed subscribers to purchase verification, resulting in an influx of deceptive posts and accounts.

Solenkova said she spent hours reporting posts and accounts sharing the fake tweet. But she received notifications saying such content did not violate the platform's policies against misleading and deceptive identities.

"In order for an account to be in violation of the policy, it must portray another person or business in a misleading or deceptive manner," the emails from Twitter Support to Solenkova said, according to screenshots shared with AFP.

Twitter also has rules against synthetic and manipulated media, but the company says it generally does not "enforce on doctored or fake tweets, social media posts, or chat messages under this policy."

Rogan has faced backlash on several occasions for advancing false narratives about the Covid-19 shots and other topics on his show. He has also hosted controversial guests who promote anti-vaccine misinformation.

AFP has previously debunked other fake tweets here, here and here.