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Asking for a cousin's friend: The viral load of Nicki Minaj's vaccine misinformation tweet

Rapper Nicki Minaj. Photo by Eva Rinaldi on Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0.

Trinidad and Tobago-born rapper Nicki Minaj has received significant backlash over a September 13 tweet, in which she suggested the COVID-19 vaccine caused impotence.

The tweet followed several others that dealt with COVID-19 vaccination, including one in which Minaj announced she would forego the Met Gala because attendance was contingent on vaccination and she felt she hadn't yet done “enough research” on vaccine options.

When mainstream media pounced on the story, Minaj said that her comments about the Met had been misreported, pointing to a few other tweets she'd posted, where she recommended that people get the vaccine, calling it “the norm” that vaccinated people are better able to ward off the virus.

Even as liberal television commentator Joy Reid chastised Minaj for using her 22 million-strong Twitter platform to spread misinformation, others called the whole debacle “a rare glimpse […] into how the press twists the truth”, supporting Minaj's clap back that Reid was “spread[ing] a false narrative about a [fellow] black woman.” Others suggested Reid's dress-down was hypocritical, considering that she herself sowed seeds of distrust in the COVID-19 vaccine back in 2020 because it was developed under the oversight of the Trump administration.

Amanda Carpenter tweeted mischievously:

Social media was soon in an uproar. New York Times bestselling author Kurt Eichenwald replied to Minaj:

One former fan responded:

In one judgement-free post, Dr. Raven the Science Maven reposted a rap in which she explained how the vaccines actually work:

While some supported Minaj's position, most social media users were not willing to be as tolerant of Minaj's misstep:

Comedian Trevor Noah, while admitting that, for many of Minaj's followers, “that tweet about swollen balls […] will be their research,” was opposed to labelling the star as an anti-vaxxer, since she's saying “she's unsure and she can be convinced”:

If you take Nicki at her word—or anyone who wants more information for that matter—instead of crucifying them to prove how righteous we are, let's show them the research. […]

The good news is that a lot of research has already been done on these vaccines and that research has shown they are overwhelming safe and effective, and their side effects don't come close to the damage that COVID can do to you.

Still, some netizens weren't having any of it:

Dr. Stella Safo lamented:

Many social media users responded to the controversial tweet in the same way they felt it should have been received—with humour:

A few spared a thought for those also suffering the fallout:

The majority of Trinidadian netizens, meanwhile, seemed embarrassed:

On Facebook, Nyssa Pierre wrote:

There are NO WORDS to describe how I wish Onika [Minaj's birth name] would just leave we good name out she mouth. Every single time Ms Starships mentions us is an embarrassment.

…while Dave V Surajdeen was among those who marked themselves safe from the incident:

A Facebook status update by Dave V Surajdeen, which reads, ‘Marked safe from Nicki Minaj's Trini cousin's friend's balls.’ Image shared widely on social media.

Kyle Griffin whittled the whole controversy down to one sentence, to which fellow Twitter user Cali responded:

With Minaj still getting roasted by the blogosphere, the question of whether celebrity misinformation should be countered with education—rather than cancellation—is still being debated.

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