Twitter has not deleted or added a warning label to Nicki Minaj's tweet containing unverified information about COVID-19 vaccines.
Getty/Gilbert Carrasquillo
  • Twitter has not deleted or added a warning to Nicki Minaj's tweet containing Covid misinformation.
  • Twitter said Minaj's tweet will stay up because the rapper shared a personal anecdote.
  • When celebrities post misinformation, the result can be "incredibly damaging" to public health, one expert said.
  • For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

Twitter's response to Nicki Minaj's bizarre post claiming that a Covid-19 vaccine caused her cousin's friend's testicles to swell shows how the platform uses patchwork policies in curbing misinformation.

The rap superstar said in several tweets this week that she has not been vaccinated against Covid-19 yet, in part because she wants to do more research after hearing a story from her cousin.

"My cousin in Trinidad won't get the vaccine cuz his friend got it & became impotent," Minaj wrote to her 22.7 million Twitter followers. "His testicles became swollen. His friend was weeks away from getting married, now the girl called off the wedding."

No clinical studies of any Covid-19 vaccines being administered have linked the shot to impotence. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has not found any vaccine, including the one for Covid-19, to lead to fertility problems, and encourages pregnant people or those who may become pregnant to get a shot.

Though Minaj said on Instagram she was put in "Twitter jail" and unable to post, Twitter denied locking her account. The company also told Insider's Isobel Hamilton Minaj's tweet will stay up because she shared a personal anecdote. Content that states Covid-19 misinformation as a fact may violate Twitter's policy, Twitter said.

Minaj's tweet appears to have led to her fanbase to target public health officials: A small group of Minaj's followers, who call themselves "Barbz," protested outside the CDC's Atlanta office. Chief Medical Advisor to the president Anthony Fauci even got involved, denying Minaj's claim that the vaccine could lead to impotence.

Dr Joe Smyser, PhD, MSPH, Chief Executive Officer of The Public Good Projects, told Insider when celebrities like Minaj post misinformation, the result can be "incredibly damaging" to public health. Smyser said followers of a celebrity trust them, and view them as an authentic source for information.

"So when health authorities are put in the position of having to refute misinformation from a celebrity, and they definitely have to do this, it's a lose-lose for everybody," Smyser said.

That's reflected in the statement made by Terrence Deyalsingh, Trinidad and Tobago's minister of health, following Minaj's tweets.

"What is sad about this is that it wasted our time yesterday trying to track it down, because we take all of these claims seriously," Deyalsingh said. "As we stand now there is absolutely no reported such side effect or adverse effect of testicular swelling in Trinidad… and none that we know of anywhere else in the world."

Twitter has released numerous initiatives and tools to combat the spread of false information, but a 2020 report from Oxford University found nearly 60% of coronavirus-related misinformation on Twitter remained without a warning label.

The White House has recently pointed to online misinformation as a roadblock to getting more Americans vaccinated.

Though she expressed her hesitation about getting a vaccine herself, Minaj tweeted previously she recommends people get one for work and that she will likely get a jab herself once she goes on tour.

In the past, Twitter has put warning labels on posts containing misinformation from prominent accounts.

The company labelled multiple posts from former President Donald Trump before permanently suspending his account. Twitter allows accounts those in government or running for office, to violate its Civic Integrity Policy due to public interest.

But early in the pandemic, Twitter faced criticism when it added coronavirus misinformation warnings to tweets unrelated to the virus but that used terms like "5G" - the basis of a popular conspiracy theory at Covid's onset - or "oxygen."

Misinformation expert John Cook previously told Insider Twitter should be careful in using warnings under tweets or users could become cynical and inattentive when seeing them.

"We need these kind of warnings to be more surgical," Cook told Insider. "We want to bring down the misinformation, but not hurt accurate information."

Twitter was not available for additional comment.

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