‘A mother’s intuition it’s real and we have to believe in it’: how the maternal is used to promote vaccine refusal on Instagram

Stephanie Alice Baker, Michael Walsh

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Abstract

In this article we examine the proliferation of anti-vaccine content on social media during the COVID-19 pandemic. We employ a case study approach to analyse the techniques used by 13 antivaccine influencers to promote vaccine refusal on Instagram for 19 months from January 2020 to July 2021. Our findings reveal that the maternal is strategically invoked in anti-vaccine content by appealing to three interrelated ideal types: the protective mother; the intuitive mother and the doting mother. These portrayals of the maternal are used to encourage vaccine refusal by presenting hegemonic ideals of the ‘good mother’ as one who is natural, holistic and authentic; depicting anti-vaccination as a feminine ideal to which mothers ought to aspire. Authenticity is framed here as a form of embodied expertise, uncorrupted by culture, politics and the medical establishment. Our findings question the pejorative portrayal of suburban mothers in popular media as critical actors in the anti-vaccine movement by revealing the ways anti-vaccine influencers strategically target mothers on social media to achieve visibility, attention and to support their cause.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-19
Number of pages19
JournalInformation Communication and Society
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2022

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