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COVID-19: Facebook bans firm over anti-vaccine crusade

August 11, 2021

Fazze, a firm operating out of Russia, had tried to lure influencers to push false information about the AstraZeneca and BioNTech-Pfizer COVID-19 shots, according to Facebook.

An illustrative image of syringes in front of a Facebook logo
Facebook was one of the platforms that the campaign used to spread false informationImage: Artur Widak/NurPhoto/picture alliance

Facebook said on Tuesday that it has shut down a smear campaign that sought to spread disinformation about COVID-19 vaccines made by BioNTech-Pfizer and AstraZeneca. 

In recent months, anti-vaccine and coronavirus conspiracy theories have spread on social media sites, putting major tech firms under pressure from governments fighting the pandemic. 

Facebook said it traced hundreds of accounts back to Fazze, a UK-registered marketing firm operating out of Russia. 

The social media company said it banned Fazze for violating its policy against foreign interference.

Fake reports about vaccinations

Fake accounts claim AstraZeneca jab turns people into chimpanzees

Facebook's investigators described the campaign as a "cross-platform disinformation laundromat," creating misleading content on forums like Reddit, Medium and Change.org, as well as fake accounts on platforms like Facebook and Instagram.

Last year, the network of fake accounts circulated a meme that the AstraZeneca COVID jab would turn people into chimpanzees, Facebook reported. 

Around five months later, the campaign attacked BioNTech-Pfizer's vaccine safety and shared what it claimed to be a leaked AstraZeneca document. 

The campaign primarily targeted India and Latin America, as well as the US.

Facebook: 'Do your own research'

Fazze had asked influencers on YouTube, Instagram and TikTok in several countries to push anti-vaccine content for payment, according to Facebook.

Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook's head of security policy, said the company's efforts to enlist influencers were noteworthy despite the campaign not getting much traction online.

"Although it was sloppy and didn't have very good reach, it was an elaborate setup," Gleicher said.

Facebook said some influencers did post Fazze's material, but later deleted it when stories about the campaign began to emerge.

Two German and French influencers exposed the campaign earlier this year.

"The assumption was the influencers wouldn't do any of their own homework, but two did," Facebook global threat intelligence lead Ben Nimmo said while briefing journalists.

"It's really a warning — be careful when someone is trying to spoon feed you a story. Do your own research." 

fb/jsi (AFP, AP, Reuters)