Can we all please shut up about Kanye West now?
If you had asked me on Oct. 8, the day Kanye West tweeted that he wanted to go “death con 3” on Jews, how long I’d be writing about the rapper’s antisemitism, I would’ve said maybe a week. I figured that, like most public figures who have made public antisemitic statements, there would be enormous backlash — which there was — and West would feel pressured to give a halfhearted apology and shut up, and we’d all move on.
Nearly two months later, West, who legally changed his name to Ye — a seven-word phrase I’ve written more than seven times — is still making headlines every few days with increasingly bald antisemitism.
It’s exhausting to continue to watch him praise Hitler and invoke age-old antisemitic conspiracies, all while framing himself as a maverick and a truth-teller. Everyone I know is tired of hearing about West; it’s not like anything he says is surprising at this point. But it’s my duty, as a journalist, to continue to cover the rapper — right?
Maybe not. West has been repeatedly pushed off of mainstream platforms in an attempt to quell his tweets and Instagram posts about Jewish power or manipulation. But even as his deplatforming has forced him to more and more fringe platforms, none of that has shut him up, or reduced the spread of his message — because we, the media, keep covering him.
Covering extremism and conspiracy theories requires a delicate balancing act. When celebrities and public figures expose their antisemitic beliefs, it’s certainly newsworthy, and it’s important to track, call out and condemn growing extremism in an attempt to prevent mainstreaming. But any coverage of a conspiracy theory also serves to repeat it and thus, in a way, to elevate it, and spread it to a new audience.
So can we all finally shut up about Kanye West?
Is West’s antisemitism newsworthy?
West is an enormously influential figure, a titan in the music industry and — at least until companies such as Adidas and Balenciaga broke their deals with him — a wealthy business and fashion magnate. So when someone like him, with legions of fans and admirers and a massive platform, begins to spout virulent, blatant antisemitism, it’s dangerous, and definitely newsworthy.
But at this point, West has made it clear that he holds numerous antisemitic beliefs, and that he has no intention of changing his mind or educating himself on the history of the Holocaust or the dangers of conspiracy theories. We’re not learning anything new with each article about his claims. We get it.
There are plenty of people who say antisemitic things all the time. Tucker Carlson promotes the “great replacement theory” conspiracy regularly, and he has an audience of millions. Yet we don’t write an article every time, because it’s a given at this point.
“He’s been saying these things for quite some time,” said Michael Broschowitz, a visiting fellow researching antisemitism at Middlebury College’s Center on Terrorism, Extremism and Counterterrorism. “It’s like getting up in arms because David Duke said something racist. You can’t keep reporting on it.”
West is exposing more and more antisemitic views each time he speaks in public — it wasn’t until he went on Infowars that he so publicly admitted his fondness for Hitler. But it’s still not really news; we’ve known how he feels about Jews since his first tweet about that.
Still, West draws clicks. People email us and comment on our social media posts asking why we keep covering him; my friends and colleagues say they’re tired of the story. But we all keep reading — and in the attention economy that drives digital news, this makes West and his antisemitism hard to stop covering.
Repeating the conspiracy
Still, not everyone has heard the antisemitic ideas that West is sharing. And news articles that detail his tirades run the risk of exposing new audiences to dangerous ideas.
“It can expose them to something that can confirm a bias or get them looking into it,” said Broschowitz.
Broschowitz worried that many news articles didn’t fully contextualize West’s statements. “To the extent that they do, it’s ‘we need to learn about the Holocaust.’ And I’m not sure that’s a great method for teaching the particularities of antisemitism,” he said. “The problem with just talking about the Holocaust is that it doesn’t really explain what the beliefs are, where they came from, why they are politically useful.”
But even articles that do seek to provide context for conspiracy theories such as those promoted by West risk spreading them.
“A lot of the time, debunking information repeats the false information itself,” Alice Marwick, professor of media and technology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, told me last year when I spoke to her about online extremism.
In the early days of Donald Trump’s first campaign, very few people took him seriously. Nevertheless, the media covered him, and all of his sexist comments and unhinged tweets. And he got elected.
During the 2020 election, social media platforms attempted to moderate users as they spread disinformation about COVID-19 and voter fraud. But none of them censored Trump when he spread disinformation, echoed white supremacist rhetoric and rallied his supporters to take back the government.
Facebook allows politicians to lie; Twitter allowed politicians to break its content restrictions even before Elon Musk took over and got rid of most content moderation. Anything they say is considered newsworthy, and social media companies hold that there is “significant public interest” in knowing and discussing whatever they say, however horrible — a loophole in most social media moderation policies.
It was only after a mob literally stormed the Capitol that Twitter and Facebook suspended the former president’s accounts. But it worked — once Trump left the White House, without Twitter or Facebook at his fingertips, he struggled to continue to connect with his movement.
There’s no longer a flurry of articles every time he tweets — because he couldn’t. While devout supporters continued to follow him, Trump’s attempt to start his own social media platform, Truth Social, has largely flopped, and he has ceased dominating the discourse.
Deplatforming works. White supremacist Richard Spencer, one of the featured speakers at the Charlottesville Unite the Right rally, claimed he couldn’t afford a lawyer for his trial due to his deplatforming.
Even figures such as Alex Jones or Nick Fuentes, who have founded their own sites after the mainstream internet banned them for hate speech or inciting violence, have had their reach enormously curtailed. People can still seek them out, but they’re much harder to find — most people aren’t familiar with noted white supremacist hangouts.
West has been deplatformed — Elon Musk suspended his Twitter account again on Thursday. The rapper’s major partnerships have dropped him. His agent dropped him. His lawyers dropped him.
Infowars is not a mainstream outlet. West’s followers might have largely missed his statements praising Nazism and Hitler, or his conspiracies about Jewish power on various podcasts and internet talk shows, if not for the numerous news outlets that covered them — and if West fell out of headlines, his influence might begin to ebb.
What’s the point of covering him?
West’s antisemitic tirades have emboldened antisemites to speak freely. Across the country, at baseball games and highway overpasses, antisemitic groups have held signs saying “Kanye is right.”
West’s statements have shaped the conversation around antisemitism in the past two months. Educating people who might otherwise believe what West has said about Jewish power and control is essential to the journalistic mission.
But that doesn’t mean reporting every single tirade West goes on. It means writing in-depth explainers of the history of antisemitism, connecting conspiracies about Jewish power to Nazi propaganda to demonstrate why they’re harmful.
That would mean fewer articles, but better ones. It would also mean that maybe the end is in sight — maybe, soon, I’ll be able to stop writing about Kanye.