Hundreds of Facebook and Instagram accounts were involved in Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine smear campaign that took place in May. The campaign, orchestrated from Russia, was active from November 2020 to May 2021.
” We deleted 65 Facebook accounts and 243 Instagram accounts for violating our rules of use and for international interference Facebook announced on Tuesday August 10th. It is a whole network that the platform dismantled, covering hundreds of accounts, a dozen different sites and forums, and originating in Russia.
In all, Facebook deleted more than 300 accounts linked to a massive disinformation campaign on Covid-19 vaccines, from November 2020 to May 2021. ” We removed the fake accounts and real profiles of the people behind the campaign, and we blocked the domain names of sites associated with their activity. Facebook said. The social network broke the news in a detailed report on ” inauthentic group actions – in other words, on disinformation campaigns. And at the heart of this report and the campaigns against Pfizer is the Fazze agency.
Fazze tried to recruit Youtubers
The mysterious Fazze agency caused a lot of talk in May. On May 24, the YouTuber Léo Grasset, from the DirtyBiology channel, explained on Twitter having been contacted by this agency in order to offer him a paid partnership of a particular kind: he had to show a table of an unknown origin to his subscribers, tell them that the vaccine developed by Pzifer had a mortality rate much higher than the others, and above all, not to say that he was paid to give this speech.
Numerama had come into contact with Léo Grasset, and had been able to trace Fazze, who claimed to be an English digital communication agency, to Russia, from where the orders would have been given. Our research and that of other media had also made it possible to find traces of other Youtubers contacted in other countries. The German Youtubeur Mirko Drotschmann, who had received the same proposal as Léo Grasset, also warned his subscribers of the attempted disinformation organized by the agency. But at least two people accepted Fazze’s proposal. Indian Youtuber Ashkar Techy, who has over 700,000 subscribers, and Brazilian Youtuber Everson Zoio, with over 12 million fans, both posted videos featuring the picture provided by Fazze and elements from language of the agency. They both quickly deleted their video when the testimonies of Léo Grasset and Mirko Drotschmann gained momentum.
Memes from Planet of the Apes
The internal investigation by Facebook shows today that Fazze was at the heart of a much larger campaign, which took place on Facebook and Instagram and which targeted the United States, several Latin American countries, Europe and India. The campaign took place in two stages, Facebook found. The first part took place between November and December 2020, and targeted the AstraZeneca vaccine.
The 300 or so accounts that Facebook spotted and since deleted have, at that time, posted a massive amount of memes, which are supposed to cast doubt on the reliability of the vaccine. Specifically, the accounts shared on Facebook and Instagram images showing vaccinated men transforming into monkeys, using passages from the film. The Planet of the Apes from 1968. The most active accounts at the start of the operation were based in India, and shared many memes in a mixture of Hindi and English. In one of the examples shared by Facebook in its report, and inserted below, we can see one of the men – supposedly transformed into a monkey – say ” Walter is coming, don’t hesitate! AstraZeneca vaccine is safe! We got our dose yesterday “.
But as time went on, the accounts began to target English-speaking, Spanish-speaking and Portuguese-speaking users of Facebook and Instagram. ” Account activity on Instagram looked particularly like spam and was organized around a handful of hashtags “, Facebook analysis in its report. ” Two of them were in English, #AstraZenecakills and #AstraZenecalies (#AstraZenecaTue and #AstraZenecaMent, editor’s note) ”, And they had their equivalents in Spanish and Portuguese. ” Between December 14 and December 21, nearly 10,000 posts using these hasthags were published, the vast majority leading to sites edited by the network. “. But despite the high number of posts and memes, Facebook notes that the network hasn’t been very successful. Interactions with their posts were minimal, and very few users picked up their memes.
Well-being influencers contacted
But despite this little commitment, it seems that Fazze had already made contact with influencers at that time, months before the testimonies of Léo Grasset and Mirko Drotschmann. ” While the Instagam campaign was underway, influencers specializing in wellness and health published stories using the same hashtags, saying that AstraZeneca’s vaccine used chimpanzee adenovirus, and shared links to petitions claiming that AstraZeneca lied about the composition of its vaccines, which were created from scratch by teams from Fazze Facebook says in its report.
Facebook acknowledges that the influencers in question may have shared the stories and the links to the petitions themselves, after stumbling across them. But the lack of success of the publications and memes rather suggests that the influencers were indeed contacted by Fazze, who would have made them a proposal similar to that received by Léo Grasset Mirko Drotschmann. ” It is likely that Fazze asked people to share their campaign on social media as early as December 2020 “, Concludes Facebook.
The account network slowed down the pace of its publications at the end of December 2020, and stopped completely on January 6, 2021. The accounts did not resume their work of undermining until May, had to stop completely once the case has been made public. If the investigation of Facebook makes it possible to lift part of the veil on the activities of Fazze and on their functioning, there are nevertheless still several unanswered questions. What is the provenance of the document used by Fazze to launch the second part of the disinformation campaign? Was it created from scratch? And above all, who paid Fazze to organize this whole operation? ” As with all disinformation campaigns, understanding the motives behind is a key element in putting the operation into context. “, Concludes Facebook. While vaccination in France and around the world is underway, it is more important than ever to ensure that such campaigns are not organized again.
If you have been contacted by the Fazze agency, or another agency which suggested that you carry out an influencing campaign against vaccination or a vaccine in particular, your testimony interests us: do not hesitate to write us a message at firstname.lastname@example.org.