The furor sparked by Nicki Minaj’s vaccine hesitancy tweet last week shows just how difficult fighting COVID-19 misinformation has become in the age of social media.
Minaj’s tweet about her cousin’s fears of infertility— shared with her 22.8 million followers— had global medical experts including Dr. Anthony Fauci repudiating claims linking COVID-19 vaccines and infertility. The White House offered her a phone call with one of the administration’s doctors to address her concerns. And Trinidadian government officials deny the person Minaj refers to in the tweet even exists.
It may not matter. The conversation she sparked—with 41,000 unique authors ultimately weighing in— and the search for the man she referenced in her tweet trended on Twitter for nearly a week.
Last Friday, anti-vaxxers and fans of Nicki Minaj gathered at CDC headquarters in Atlanta to protest vaccine mandates and chant “Nicki Minaj told me the truth. Fauci lied to me.”
Kaiser Permanente urologist Ashley Winter was one of many doctors to enter the fray, with her tweet getting more engagement than other critics’. But Winter’s tweet ultimately reached 821,533 people. Minaj’s reached 70 million.
Joy-Anne Reid, host of MSNBC, expressed her disappointment in Minaj’s tweets, pointing out that they could increase vaccine hesitancy in the Black community, which is already below the national average for vaccination rates.
Social media platforms’ fuzzy rules around misinformation complicate the fight. Minaj’s tweet, though untrue, is “not in violation of Twitter’s rules” according to a statement released to The Washington Post. To violate Twitter’s misinformation guidelines, one must advance a claim of fact in definitive terms.
Minaj’s false claims do not seem to have significantly impacted national vaccination rates, although in some states such as Arkansas, there was a notable increase in web searches on vaccinations and infertility.