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‘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

Baker, S.A. ORCID: 0000-0002-4921-2456 & Walsh, M. J. (2022). ‘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. Information, Communication & Society, doi: 10.1080/1369118x.2021.2021269


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 anti-vaccine 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.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: © 2022 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives License (, which permits non-commercial re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited, and is not altered, transformed, or built upon in any way.
Publisher Keywords: Anti-vaccine movement, authenticity, conspiracy theories, disinformation dozen, medical misinformation, motherhood
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
H Social Sciences > HQ The family. Marriage. Woman
R Medicine > RA Public aspects of medicine > RA0421 Public health. Hygiene. Preventive Medicine
Departments: School of Policy & Global Affairs > Sociology & Criminology
Text - Published Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial No Derivatives.

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