City Research Online

‘Memes Save Lives’: stigma and the production of anti-vaccination memes during the COVID-19 pandemic

Baker, S.A. ORCID: 0000-0002-4921-2456 (2024). ‘Memes Save Lives’: stigma and the production of anti-vaccination memes during the COVID-19 pandemic. Social Media + Society, 10(1), article number 2056305123. doi: 10.1177/20563051231224729


Disinformation research is increasingly concerned with the hierarchies and conditions that enable the strategic production of false and harmful content online. During the COVID-19 pandemic it was revealed that 12 influencers were responsible for a significant volume of anti-vaccine disinformation (CCDH, 2021). This article examines how these influencers use anti-vaccination memes for commercial and political gain. Drawing on a twelve-month digital ethnography of three disinformation producers on Instagram and Telegram, we conceptualize their strategy of meme warfare in terms of the logics of spoiled identity, demonstrating how stigma is used to galvanize and recast the anti-vaccination movement around themes of persecution and moral superiority. Dispensing with the idea that content moderation has forced disinformation “underground,” we find that disinformation producers configure memes to adapt to specific platforms by directing mainstream audiences to less regulated platforms, personal newsletters and sites. By examining the tactics and communicative techniques of disinformation producers spreading anti-vaccination messaging online, we question the effectiveness of content moderation policies as a solution to regulate influencers whose visibility and status strategically straddles multiple sites in the broader information ecosystem.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License ( which permits any use, reproduction and distribution of the work without further permission provided the original work is attributed as specified on the SAGE and Open Access pages (
Publisher Keywords: Anti-vaccination Movement; Disinformation; Influencers; Memes; Meme War; Stigma
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
Q Science > QA Mathematics > QA75 Electronic computers. Computer science
Q Science > QR Microbiology > QR180 Immunology
R Medicine > RA Public aspects of medicine > RA0421 Public health. Hygiene. Preventive Medicine
T Technology
Departments: School of Policy & Global Affairs > Sociology & Criminology
SWORD Depositor:
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Available under License Creative Commons: Attribution International Public License 4.0.

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