Late rapper, songwriter, and actor Tupac Shakur once said, “I don’t want to be a role model. I just want to be someone who says, this is who I am, this is what I do, I say what’s on my mind.” In today’s age of social media, the accountability stakes have been raised. Saying what is on your mind can cause a global uproar just ask Nicki Minaj. Ms. Minaj’s recent social media comments regarding hearsay on the COVID-19 vaccine caused such a backlash that her country’s Prime Minister of Health had to step in and clarify the misconceptions raised in her social media post.
In today’s society, we tend to get our news or fake news from social media and its trending stars. Celebrities have become the new go-to for facts. We must hold ourselves accountable for what the real issue here is. It is not just what Nicki repeated but that we are getting our news and serious health advice from someone that is not an expert in the field. Twitter, Facebook, and any other social media platform cannot be a source of scientific information unless that source on social media is a proclaimed expert in the field. What happened to the days of looking for an expert in the field or a professional? The fundamental problem I have is, after reviewing the Tweet, I do not think it was her intention to tell anyone what to do and not to do. She mentioned that she would do her research. The mistake was instead telling a story she heard involving an unproven claim of a man becoming impotent after taking the vaccine. Should she be crucified in the news for repeating what she heard or should someone step in and counsel her on the facts? Similar to Tupac, Nicki’s message to her millions of followers was a product of what was on her mind, not a playbook on what to do. We should not look toward celebrities to solve the world’s problems. If her comments were so impactful then perhaps we need to examine why society puts more faith into what a celebrity says as opposed to an accredited medical expert or science.
As a Citizen Public Health Leader, I see my role as not to alienate anyone. I cannot call myself a leader in helping to promote healthy outcomes if I risk alienating people whose beliefs do not align with mine or who may not have a viable source of correct information. The problem I have is not with Nicki Minaj but with all those that came out attacking as opposed to educating. The Prime Minister of Health for Trinidad gave the correct information and focused his attention on perceived damage control as opposed to attacking the remarks made. Often in society, we are quick to turn on each other particularly when we are of the same background or race. This was a teaching moment, not a moment to crucify her. It also certainly was not a moment to take the spotlight off of the common goal which is to educate those on staying healthy and making the right choice based on science.
The systemic problem of the masses getting their news and information from uncredited individuals who are not experts in any field is a movement that continues to plague the process of moving past this pandemic. I have heard many say that someone who has so many followers on social media has a responsibility that comes with it. However, that may be true but that does not make that person an expert. We have to instead hold reputable news sources, academics, scientists, and those in the medical fields accountable. Your aunt, your friend, your barber, or an entertainer should not be your source in making a life-changing decision such as to get a vaccine or not. All those who were upset should be asking themselves what they have done to dispel myths and rumors and how they have addressed vaccine hesitancy or COVID-19 education. One can argue, that the MET gala held in NYC last week where the elite attending were completely maskless while servers inside wore masks sends just as equally confusing a message as did Nicki’s baseless Tweet. We as a society continue to uphold celebrities and what they say and do as our moral foundation. Even in that forum, there is still inequity in how we measure right and wrong. Nicki faced backlash for unfounded comments yet every celebrity that attended the MET gala maskless did not. The messaging is unclear as current mandates in most public places in certain states including where the gala was held require masks indoors whether vaccinated or not. Where is the outcry over that?
The fact is, we each should have our own medical expert to rely on in the form of our healthcare provider, local hospital, or clinic. The media cannot be our sole medical source. The time it took to read Nicki’s Tweet is the same amount of time it takes to Google COVID-19 vaccine side effects or better yet place a call to a trusted doctor or local medical facility. We should not be getting sound advice from just Google either or other online sources, however, it is a viable start and a place to formulate your questions and concerns. You are likely to be taken more seriously when talking to a healthcare provider if you start with what you read from a medical source versus what a celebrity said. For those segments of the population that may not have the means to research on their own, that is where more outreach is needed to help educate. We cannot and should not take for granted that everyone can do their own research and dispel what is fact or fiction by themselves. We as fellow citizens need to feel empowered to ask questions but know who to ask and where to get information from. Chastising celebrities for their ridiculous tweets will not solve the hesitancy or resistance that is currently occurring with the vaccines and science as it relates to the pandemic.
I understand why people were upset with the social media posts, however, the energy used on Nicki and giving her even more of a platform to engage in the negativity should have instead been used to educate and dispel the false rumors. It comes down to the famous Spiderman quote, “With great power comes great responsibility.” We must ask ourselves, do we want that power to come from a celebrity or an expert?