Hidden Figures: Representations of Authority in COVID-Related Social Media Posts of Malawi


Anika Wilson (University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee)

This paper explores types of authority invoked in COVID-19 memes, videos, and images by analyzing social media (Whatsapp and Facebook) and mass media in Malawi. Conspiracy memes about COVID-19 circulating amongst Malawians (and in the region more broadly) feature various regional doctors, public health officials, and religious leaders; all are associated with claims of expertise and authority in public health. I will explore the ways in which “authority” and “expertise” are performed in social media and traditional media and consider implications for health care campaigns. Conspiracy rumors in Malawi manifest contemporary and historical experience, opposition to neocolonialism, political alignments, religious ideology and more.

Part of 14-06 Crisis Folklore: Vernacular Responses to COVID-19 and Public Health, Monday, October 18, 2:15 pm–3:45 pm