[New Publication] Memes of Gandhi and Mercury in Anti-Vaccination Discourse

Memes of Gandhi and Mercury in Anti-Vaccination Discourse

Media and Communication (2020), Volume 8, Issue 2, Pages 353–363, open access

Jan Buts (School of Languages, Literatures and Cultural Studies, Trinity College Dublin, Ireland)



This study focuses on two widely circulating memes in the anti-vaccination movement, namely lists of vaccine ingredients containing mercury, and quotes attributed to Mahatma Gandhi. Mercury has been identified by conspiracy theorists as one of the most harmful components of vaccines, and Gandhi, who has condemned vaccination practices, has been celebrated as a significant source of authority. Quotes attributed to Gandhi against vaccination, complete with picture and embellished font, circulate across various popular platforms, as do intimidating images of syringes dipped in poison coupled with a list of seemingly occult or dangerous ingredients. This article analyses both memes, moving from the imageboard 4chan to the search engine Google Images, and illustrates how the repurposed, often ironic use of visual tropes can either undermine or strengthen the claims that accompany them. The aim is to explore the intersections of conspiracy theory, visual rhetoric, and digital communication in order to elucidate the ambiguity of memes as vehicles for the spread of controversial health-related information.