Facebook says Russia-linked ad agency tried to smear Covid vaccines

Facebook said Tuesday that it has removed hundreds of accounts linked to a mysterious advertising agency operating out of 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 was traced back to Fazze, an advertising and marketing firm working in Russia on behalf of an unknown client.

The network used fake accounts to spread misleading claims that disparaged the safety of the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines. One claimed AstraZeneca’s shot would turn a person into a chimpanzee. The fake accounts targeted audiences in India, Latin America and, to a lesser extent, the U.S., using several social media platforms including Facebook and Instagram.

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The Fazze network also contacted social media influencers in several countries with offers to pay them for reposting the misleading content. That ploy backfired when influencers in Germany and France exposed the network’s offer.

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Fazze’s effort did not get much traction online, with some posts failing to get even a single response. But, while the campaign may have fizzled, it’s noteworthy because of its effort to enlist social media influencers, according to Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of security policy.

“Although it was sloppy and didn’t have very good reach, it was an elaborate setup,” Gleicher said on a conference call announcing Tuesday’s actions.

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Facebook investigators say some influencers did post the material, but later deleted it when stories about Fazze’s work began to emerge.

French YouTuber Léo Grasset was among those contacted by Fazze. He told The Associated Press in May that he was asked to post a 45- to 60-second video on Instagram, TikTok or YouTube criticizing the mortality rate of the Pfizer vaccine.

When Grasset asked Fazze to identify their client, the firm declined. Grasset refused the offer and went public with his concerns.

The offer from Fazze urged influencers not to mention that they were being paid, and also suggested they criticize the media’s reporting on vaccines.

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Source: Facebook says Russia-linked ad agency tried to smear Covid vaccines

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