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11th Aug 2021

Facebook shuts down accounts linked to mystery Russian agency in anti-vaccine influencer campaign

Kieran Galpin

Facebook cracks down on misinformation

In July, an alleged conspiracy arose that centred around influencers being asked to push Covid misinformation to their legions of fans. Though very few of the social media mavens fell for the scam, the marketing agency responsible was drenched in mystery. Now, Facebook has shut down numerous accounts related to the marketing agency Fazze.

A network of 65 Facebook accounts and 243 Instagram accounts were traced back to Fazze by Facebook. These accounts were used to spread dangerous misinformation about the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines, with one even claiming that AstraZeneca would turn its recipient into a chimpanzee.

The accounts largely targeted audiences in India and Latin America, though their reach was reportedly widespread and included parts of the US. The mystery client of Fazze that is funding these campaigns is believed to be Russian in origin. “Bad-mouthing vaccines in the West undermines trust in our democracies and is supposed to increase trust in Russia’s vaccines, and there is only one side that benefits and that is the Kremlin,” said Omid Nouripour, the foreign policy spokesman for the German Green party.

“Although it was sloppy and didn’t have very good reach, it was an elaborate setup,” said Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of security policy.

German Youtuber Mirko Drotschmann spoke to the BBC about his connection with the company.

“I was shocked,” says Mirko, “then I was curious, what’s behind all that?”

Science YouTuber Léo Grasset received a similar offer, with Fazze claiming they were acting upon the wishes of an anonymous client. Feigning interest, both Youtubers played along to gather more information on the troubling request.