Nicki Minaj and the death of responsibility

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Nicki Minaj’s show of ignorance on Twitter last week would have been the funniest thing that has happened in months, had it not been for the statistical near-certainty that it will actually kill someone. .

For the handful of you who don’t spend your entire day obsessively following social media, Minaj said she has serious doubts about COVID vaccines because,

This is, of course, nonsense. Besides having the classic structure of the urban ‘friend of a friend’ myth, there isn’t a single case of impotence – let alone grapefruit-sized cajones – linked to COVID vaccines. 19. Not even the Russian lad.

The rest of the tweet was even funnier. Minaj has found herself mocked on Twitter and in the media. Joy Reid urged Minaj to use her 22 million follower platform to encourage fans to get the shot rather than spreading misinformation. Minaj took Reid’s criticisms to heart and responded with a thoughtful introspection on the responsibilities that come with having a prominent voice in American society.

LOL jk.

Reid’s comments sent Minaj into an epic Twitter rampage that culminated with this,

Things went downhill from there.

Soon a handful of Minaj fans were protesting at CDC headquarters in Atlanta chanting “Down with the CDC!” On Wednesday, Trinidad’s government formally denied that such a thing ever happened to Nicki Minaj’s cousin’s friend – or to anyone else in Trinidad. Same Boris Johnson got into the beef on the testicles of the imaginary man.

Yes. This is one thing that has happened.

There is no doubt that Nicki Minaj is one of the greatest living musical talents in the world. But winning six American Music Awards and being nominated for ten Grammys doesn’t qualify you as a public health expert. Neither does having a billion followers on Twitter. It rarely stops anyone with a billion Twitter followers from pontificating on public health issues or anything else they like.

Conventional wisdom holds that general relativity is the most tested theory in the world. It’s not. This honor goes to Dunning-Kruger effect, part of which argues that people who know next to nothing about a subject tend to believe they are experts. General relativity has been validated thousands of times since Einstein published his theory in 1915. The Dunning-Kruger effect is validated a million times a day on the Internet.

So there is no reason to particularly laugh at Nicki Minaj. His tweet is just another example of what Tom Nichols calls “the death of expertise”. But its immediate and widespread impact makes it a remarkable example of another problem.

Let’s call it “the death of responsibility”.


Every generation has its share of narcissistic celebrities. But in the past, this feeling of right was embellished with what one might call the nobility oblige. It wasn’t that long ago that baseball players were meant to be role models. I’m sure past celebrities had as many weird and sometimes dangerous ideas as some modern people, but whether it was out of a sense of responsibility to their fans or out of fear of them, they usually kept them to themselves. You can’t imagine, say, Laurent Tureaud, casually passing anti-vaccination rumors.

This is no longer true. Celebrities today feel justified, even obligatory, to transmit each of their wandering thoughts regardless of the impact on the rest of the world. Because they largely live in adoring fan bubbles, they’re often convinced that they can’t do anything wrong. This is the Dunning-Kruger effect on steroids.

And it goes without saying that these celebrities rarely take criticism.

This is a real problem and it is obviously not limited to the question of vaccine hesitation. Social media is a breeding ground for conspiracy theories and misinformation that is too often amplified by people who should know better. Social media provides modern celebrities with unprecedented direct connections to people who already love and trust them. Of the top 150 Twitter accounts, 109 are owned by entertainment and sports personalities. It’s one thing when your Uncle Jim starts babbling about vaccine conspiracy theories and the “CDC agenda.” It’s a whole different thing if your Uncle Jim is Jim Carrey and has 14 million Twitter followers.

Some people seem to believe that Joy Reid was wrong to publicly castigate Minaj and that it should have been seen as a good time to learn. But Nikki Minaj shouldn’t need to be “taught”. She is a global figure with more Twitter followers than Fox News – or Pope Francis – and not a stray 14-year-old girl. The suggestion that someone in his position should be granted a pass for spreading misinformation about something as basic and important as COVID vaccines is both patronizing and dangerous.

The truth is, Minaj’s worst offense wasn’t tweeting about exploding testicles. It was a tweet that was much more damaging and far fewer clicks. Worse, it’s the kind of occasional and deadly misinformation that spreads across social media thousands of times a day. In response to one of his fans pointing out that the vaccine “prevents you from having severe symptoms” and that “unvaccinated people are 11 times more likely to die from covid than vaccinated.” Minaj responded. “Baby. That’s not true. I had exactly the same symptoms as ppl with that damn vaccine. This little nugget of death got nearly 23,000 likes and over 17,000 retweets.

Once again, Minaj is dead wrong. Vaccines to do Dramatically reduce the severity of COVID infections, even if you catch the disease after being vaccinated. This fundamental fact has been shouted from the rooftops for months now. Someone who speaks directly to 22 million people has a responsibility to know this sort of thing.

The government can’t do it, and there is an understandable reluctance to leave the responsibility for social media monitoring – Minaj claimed, seemingly baseless, that she was kicked out of her Twitter account – to tech companies.

But someone has to do it. The current model, “With great influence from social media, great irresponsibility comes great irresponsibility” is not sustainable.



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