Tone-deaf tweet fuels the conspiracy pandemic
We live in a world of influencers, social media titans and mega-celebrities. Their brands are measured in the millions of followers on various platforms. Such is their power that a single post can ruin a company or destroy careers. They can fuel rumors and conspiracies on a scale never before seen in human history.
On Sept. 13, the singer and rapper Nicki Minaj tweeted to her 22.8 million followers that “my cousin in Trinidad won’t get the vaccine cuz his friend got it & became impotent. His testicles became swollen. His friend was weeks away from getting married, now the girl called off the wedding.”
This is a classic friend of a friend conspiracy. Nobody has confirmed the story and no credible doctor has backed up its claims. No evidence exists to indicate any vaccine having an impact on fertility. The Trinidad and Tobago government could find no case matching this story.
Yet given the performer’s status among the young, one can be certain that many will never take the vaccine, putting their lives and the lives of others at risk. Anti-vaccination advocates will feel empowered. They may increase their threats to schools and teachers who dare to give jabs to children.
Does this bother Minaj? Not one bit, it would seem. She did not delete the tweet or apologize. She even claimed that the White House had invited her in to discuss her comments, while officials say all they offered was a phone call from one of their doctors.
More than 150,000 retweets later and this has reinforced one of the great COVID-19 claptrap conspiracy theories — that the vaccine will make you infertile.
Many of these claims focus on Microsoft founder Bill Gates, whom the conspiracy world views as enemy No. 1, amid suggestions he wants to microchip every human on the planet. Italian MP Sara Cunial made parliamentary speeches spreading nonsense about Gates, describing him as a “vaccine criminal” who aims to reduce the world’s population by 10 to 15 percent. In fact, she misused a quote from a Gates speech in which he was talking quite rightly about reducing carbon emissions and lowering the rate of population growth. She wants the International Criminal Court to arrest him for crimes against humanity.
From the outset, this pandemic has acted as a powerful accelerant for rumors, misinformation and conspiracy theories, with some even saying the virus itself is a hoax.
History shows that pandemics and diseases always engender this response. The arrival of the Black Death in Europe triggered crazy theories, ranging from a rare alignment of the stars to suggestions that Jews were responsible. Anti-vaccination cartoons appeared in the satirical magazine Punch when Edward Jenner first started using vaccines in 1796. An anti-vaccination league was founded in London as long ago as 1853.
Minorities are often targets for xenophobic conspiracies, Jews then, but also today, with claims that Jewish bankers profited from the pandemic. The Jewish investor George Soros is often the target, while another classic is that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is descended from the Rockefellers.
In 2021, the target has largely been the Chinese. In North America, there is a long history of associating Chinese immigrant communities with bringing disease, highlighting the trend where conspiracy theories get recycled and updated. Chinese communities have suffered abuse. In Prato in Italy, Chinese residents have started to leave due to the prejudice they have experienced.
Many even believed in the early months that black people were immune from COVID-19. This gave false confidence to black communities that they were not at risk, as well as fueling the rumor that the virus was designed to wipe out whites.
Social media has merely amplified and spread these theories faster. The grapevine has gone digital. Conspiracists can make large profits, too — it is a business and fame game. They are tough to shut down. As people found themselves locked at home, frustrated and with little to do, they surfed the internet and were lured into this fact-free realm of misinformation.
Origin conspiracy theories about COVID-19 are rampant. Although scientists need to determine the origins, others are not bothering to wait for evidence. Many cannot accept an accidental origin, craving a person or organization to blame. The rational explanation about the origin of the virus is that we cannot be sure. It is conceivable it originated in a laboratory, but we lack hard evidence. There is also none to support the view that the Wuhan lab was a bioweapons facility.
Nevertheless, blaming China and anyone who even looks Chinese has become all too common. Former US President Donald Trump called it the China virus and even “kung flu.” The virus as a bioweapon is presented as fact. Another is the anti-Semitic theory that US and Israeli operatives released the virus in China. The virus was, according to some, a weapon for economic warfare.
As people found themselves locked at home, frustrated and with little to do, they surfed the internet and were lured into this fact-free realm of misinformation.
A slew of conspiracies also centers on control: Secretive world governments conspire to use the pandemic to exert total control over their citizens, or the uber-rich who meet at Davos are plotting the fate of the planet. The deep state allies with corrupt big pharma to drive the pandemic. It is apparently 5G masts, not the virus, killing people — a myth spread by the likes of Hollywood actor Woody Harrelson. Contact tracing is, of course, another control measure over the “sheeple.”
Then there are the bogus medical cures. Believe it or not, the latest nonsense is people taking a dewormer for livestock called Ivermectin. This is flying off the shelves in the US. Infamously, Trump proposed taking bleach to kill the virus — perhaps one of the most dangerous pieces of “health” advice ever given. The US Food and Drug Administration still has to issue stern warnings to those taking bleach and other dangerous chemicals.
Anti-vaccination conspiracies did not start with COVID-19, but the pandemic has been a boon to the muck-spreaders. Accusations abound that the vaccines cause disease, deformity and infertility. Still those opposed to vaccinations spread their poison with missionary zeal.
Mask-wearing pits those who emphasize social civic responsibility against those who prioritize personal freedoms. It is no surprise that the latter would spread the reports that mask-wearing was dangerous. Some people have been shot and killed over disputes about enforcing the wearing of masks.
Humanity needs to act collectively and responsibly. Sinking into this swamp of conspiracy, where rumors and then panic spread even faster than the disease, is disastrous. Those in the public eye, such as Minaj, have to be responsible, not reckless.
- Chris Doyle is director of the London-based Council for Arab-British Understanding (CAABU). Twitter: @Doylech