Facebook bans company behind Pfizer and AstraZeneca smear campaign
Facebook says it deleted hundreds of accounts linked to a mysterious advertising agency operating in Russia that sought to pay social media influencers to smear Covid-19 vaccines made by Pfizer and AstraZeneca.
A network of 65 Facebook accounts and 243 Instagram accounts dates back to Fazze, an advertising and marketing company working in Russia on behalf of an unknown client.
The network used fake accounts to spread misleading claims about the safety of Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines. One of them claimed that the Oxford / AstraZeneca jab would turn a person into a chimpanzee.
The fake accounts targeted users in India, Latin America and, to a lesser extent, the United States, using multiple social media platforms, including Facebook and Instagram.
Russia is actively marketing its own Covid-19 vaccine, Sputnik V, abroad in what some analysts see as an effort to score geopolitical points.
Facebook representatives did not speculate on the possible motivation behind the smear campaign.
The Fazze network also contacted social media influencers in several countries to offer to pay them for reposting the misleading content. This ploy backfired when influencers in Germany and France exposed the network’s offer.
In addition to removing accounts from the network, Facebook has also banned Fazze from its platforms.
Fazze’s effort did not have much success online, with some posts not even getting a single response, but while the campaign may have failed, it is notable for its efforts to recruit influencers from social media, according to Nathaniel Gleicher, head of Facebook. security policy.
“Even though it was sloppy and didn’t have a very good range, it was an elaborate setup,” he said.
As social media companies have improved their ability to spot and remove fake accounts, disinformation campaigns have had to adapt.
Paying social media influencers to repost content offers the potential to access the influencer audience, but there remains the risk that social media influencers will turn them down or expose them.
Facebook investigators say some influencers posted the material, but then deleted it when stories about Fazze’s work began to emerge.
French YouTuber Leo Grasset told The Associated Press in May that Fazze asked him to post a 45- to 60-second video on Instagram, TikTok or YouTube criticizing the death rate from the Pfizer vaccine.
When he asked Fazze to identify his client, the firm refused. He declined the offer and made his concerns public.
Fazze’s offer urged influencers not to mention they were getting paid, and also suggested they criticize media reports on vaccines.
“Too many red flags,” Grasset told AP. “I decided not to do it.”