A tweet about swollen testicles has become the latest episode in a parade of disinformation about the coronavirus pandemic on social media after US rapper Nicki Minaj claimed the COVID-19 vaccine had caused impotence and swollen genitalia in a family friend.
Experts told Euronews Next that those symptoms were not known side effects of the vaccines.
“My cousin in Trinidad won’t get the vaccine cuz his friend got it & became impotent,” Minaj, one of the world’s most successful female recording artists, told her 22.6 million followers on Twitter.
“His testicles became swollen. His friend was weeks away from getting married, now the girl called off the wedding. So just pray on it & make sure you’re comfortable with ur decision, not bullied,” she wrote.
Late on Tuesday England’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty responded to a question about Minaj’s tweet, telling a COVID press conference, “there are a number of myths that fly around, some of which are just clearly ridiculous and some of which are clearly designed just to scare. That happens to be one of them. That is untrue”.
In March Twitter began applying warning labels to tweets that may contain disinformation relating to COVID-19. No such label has been applied to Minaj’s tweet.
‘Not a known side effect’
The European Medicines Agency (EMA), which regulates the COVID-19 vaccines and tracks side effects of the jabs, told Euronews Next that it was unlikely a jab for the virus caused the man’s discomfort.
“The event described in the tweet you mentioned is not a known side effect of the COVID-19 vaccines,” an EMA spokesperson said.
A spokesperson for the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) told Euronews Next that in the course of monitoring the safety of the AstraZeneca, Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines authorised for use in Britain, it had not identified cases of the symptoms described by Minaj.
“There is currently no association established between the COVID-19 vaccines and swollen testicles, and swollen testicles are not listed as a potential side effect in any of the COVID-19 vaccines authorised in the UK,” they said.
According to the United States Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “no evidence shows that any vaccines, including COVID-19 vaccines, cause male fertility problems”.
In March, Twitter announced it would begin applying warning labels to tweets that may contain disinformation relating to COVID-19. No such label has been applied to Minaj’s tweet.
In its current COVID-19 misleading information policy, the company says it will “label or remove” false or misleading claims about the “adverse impacts or effects of receiving vaccinations, where these claims have been widely debunked”.
Twitter’s policy also says that “Personal anecdotes or first-person accounts” would not violate the platform’s rules on misleading content.
While her tweet about impotence and swollen testicles sparked criticism over fears it could discourage people from getting vaccinated, on Monday Minaj also tweeted in favour of the jab.
“I’d definitely recommend they get the vaccine,” she said, adding that she would likely receive the jab in order to go on tour.
Euronews Next contacted Twitter to ask why Minaj’s misleading tweet had not been given a warning label or been taken down, but did not receive a response.
However, Minaj’s tweet about her cousin’s friend was re-shared alongside anti-vaccine messages by right-wing Republican congresswoman and conspiracy theorist Marjorie Taylor Greene, demonstrating the risks of leaving misleading content on social platforms.
Taylor Greene, who has called called Parkland school shooting survivor David Hogg a “paid actor” and has claimed Muslims want to “conquer America,” was hit with a 12-hour Twitter ban in July after she falsely claimed that COVID-19 vaccines were unnecessary and that the virus was not dangerous to healthy people under 65.
In those cases, Twitter applied a disinformation warning to Taylor Greene’s tweets before also handing her the ban.