Following one of the most incredible episodes in the site’s history, it may be time to reflect on Twitter’s duty of care.
Nicki Minaj has never avoided ball talk. Whether her bejewelled fingers are examining them for some doctor-patient roleplay or she’s balling on behalf of Post Malone, the words hold pride of place in her vocabulary. So, when I saw “Nicki” trending with “balls” on Twitter, I couldn’t say I was surprised. However, when I realised she was offering unsolicited medical advice via the story of her cousin’s friend in Trinidad’s golf-ball gonads, apparently caused by the Covid-19 vaccine (and definitely not the clap), my heart sank. I, a bona-fide Barb, had to come to terms with the fact that Nicki was finally facing her virtual Waterloo.
"I, a bona-fide Barb, had to come to terms with the fact that Nicki was finally facing her virtual Waterloo."
At least she went down in a blaze of glory. Over an incredible 24 hours, she started Twitter beef with Piers Morgan (who wouldn’t?), called Laura Kuenssberg a Jack-ass Dumbo (Laura couldn’t tell that Dominic Cummings was always lying to her, so is Nicki wrong?), and found a friend in right-wing extremist Tucker Carlson (she’s “a republican/ voting for Mitt Romney”). It all culminated with a voice note from Nicki addressing Prime Minister Boris Johnson, telling him that she was in fact British and had gone to school with Margret Thatcher. My favourite moment in the entire saga? A toss up between Nicki admitting that she low-key fancies Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty, and when Azealia Banks asked her why she was opposed to arm shots but not ass shots.
The whole fiasco is the stuff of legend and will surely go down in social media history, but underneath it all lies a genuinely important issue. In the midst of a global pandemic which has been defined by misinformation, how moral is it that celebrities can broadcast their thoughts to a captive audience of millions?
"In the midst of a global pandemic which has been defined by misinformation, how moral is it that celebrities can broadcast their thoughts to a captive audience of millions?"
Obviously, Twitter has its upsides: artists being able to interact directly with their fans has arguably democratised celebrity culture more than ever before. Now anyone can theoretically have a conversation with their idol, not only those who can afford to fork out hundreds of pounds for meet and greets. The “rudest little madam” herself has used the platform to pay the university tuition fees of dozens of her fans and raise the profile of other rappers. Clearly her presence on the platform is not wholly negative, yet it’s easy to see why critics make that leap.
Gonad-gate may feel like bizarre performance art to us, but it will have a genuine effect on people’s willingness to be vaccinated. The Barbz are nothing if not die-hard, and the story has now spread far beyond the fandom. If you’re a vaccine sceptic, maybe an unverified report of STD-like side effects is enough to push you over the edge (do write in and let us know!).
All joking aside, this type of rampant vaccine misinformation is harmful and there is no excuse for a celebrity announcing it to 23 million followers without at least trying to verify it. The only defence for the Harajuku Barbie is that the story is so buck-wild that (hopefully) few will believe it.
"The only defence for the Harajuku Barbie is that the story is so buck-wild that (hopefully) few will believe it."
But, Nicki is not nearly the only culprit. In fact, her Give Me All Your Luvin’ co-stars both told lies in earlier phases of the pandemic. M.I.A voiced her own vaccine-5G conspiracy, while Madonna claimed last July that the vaccine was being hidden from the public for … reasons I can’t claim to understand. More widely, Minaj’s ex-boyfriend and Formula-1 star Lewis Hamilton made his own wild claims about vaccine research. Dozens of celebrities (including many outside of Ms Minaj’s circle) have made statements via social media that drastically undermine the official guidance on Covid-19.
This isn’t a new phenomenon; for years, Twitter has been a cesspit of misinformation with celebrities tweeting and retweeting blatant falsities without consequence. Direct access to fans is an issue, not because it allows celebrities to speak their minds, but because it allows them to speak their minds without fact-checking. Twitter could really do with an editor; someone to check punctuation and Google statistics between the writer pressing send and the Tweet going public. Obviously, this is antithetical to the point of the site and practically impossible to implement. Yet it would do much to combat the spread of misinformation. Maybe a compromise would be to edit verified users’ tweets, as they have the biggest followings and can most easily disseminate (mis)information. In Australia – where Twitter as a company now has a legal responsibility for comments on its site as their publisher – we may soon see something similar. Sure, it may cost us a reprise of Nicki imitating English aristocracy, but it will force Twitter to take action against misinformation – a potentially lifesaving trade off which I think is worth making. While celebrities having direct access to their fans is entertaining, a small barrier, just like the bouncers and barricades at a gig, would help to protect everyone.
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