The Covid-19 conversation has truly hit a nadir.
Earlier this week, Nicki Minaj tweeted that she would get vaccinated against Covid-19 “once I feel I’ve done enough research.”Photograph: Stuart C. Wilson/Getty Images
The Monitor is a weekly column devoted to everything happening in the WIRED world of culture, from movies to memes, TV to Twitter.
Sometimes, society just needs to say the wrong thing at the right time. This week, that thing was Nicki Minaj tweeting about her cousin’s friend’s balls.
Let’s back up. On Monday, as some of the most fashionable people in the world were being escorted into the Met Gala in New York City, the rapper tweeted the following: “They want you to get vaccinated for the Met. if I get vaccinated it won’t [be] for the Met. It’ll be once I feel I’ve done enough research. I’m working on that now. In the meantime my loves, be safe. Wear the mask with 2 strings that grips your head and face. Not that loose one.” OK. For someone with more than 22 million followers, the vaccine hesitancy wasn’t ideal, but at least Minaj was encouraging mask-wearing.
Shortly after that, though, came the tweet that would dominate the internet for many days to come. “My cousin in Trinidad won’t get the vaccine cuz his friend got it and became impotent. His tesitcles became swollen. His friend was weeks away from getting married, now the girl called off the wedding. So just pray on it and make sure you’re comfortable with your decision, not bullied.” Oh boy, where to begin? Putting aside the fact that it sounds like Minaj’s cousin’s friend contracted a sexually transmitted infection, it was the kind of comment that spread like, well, like an STI.
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First the reactions came in Minaj’s mentions. If you don’t yet know how to play Covid Controversies, here’s the TLDR: Most folks hopped in to explain that the vaccines don’t have any effect on fertility and that people should, you know, get them, and still others jumped in to thank Minaj for supporting “liberty” and to try to claim that governments offering inoculation is somehow coercion.
Then it went to the next level. Late-night hosts started coming in with jabs. Fox News’ Tucker Carlson defended Minaj’s tweet, saying “our media and public health officials didn’t like [it] because they make their livings bullying people.” The White House offered to connect Minaj with doctors to talk about her concerns. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director Anthony Fauci debunked the infertility claim from the tweet in a CNN interview. If all of that wasn’t enough, Terrence Deyalsingh, the health minister of Trinidad and Tobago, where Minaj’s cousin lives, gave a press conference on Wednesday explaining that his department had spent much of the day before investigating Minaj’s claims only to find out, of course, that enlarged testicles are not a side effect of the Covid-19 vaccine, and he could find no evidence of any such case in Trinidad. “We unfortunately wasted so much time yesterday running down this false claim,” he said.
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Really, of all the shenanigans that occurred around Minaj’s tweets, it’s the wasted time that feels like the biggest loss. Yes, I’m probably wasting even more time on it with this column, but hear me out, just for another minute. The problem here isn’t that, as Carlson claims, Minaj is showing skepticism about the vaccine. No one is actually saying people aren’t free to make their own decisions. What they’re saying is that those decisions impact the health of others. What they’re saying is that we live in a hyperconnected time when all of the world’s information is a keystroke away, and when someone says they want to do their own research and then offers an anecdote about one person’s friend’s testicles as a counterargument, that’s not actual research. It’s hearsay. All of this would be different if Minaj made her statement about the Met Gala and then linked to a report or peer-reviewed study. On the internet, the “just asking questions” rationalization isn’t bad because skepticism is bad. Of course not. It’s bad because those questions already have answers. This isn’t about silencing Nicki Minaj; it’s about hoping she’ll listen.
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