Facebook removes Russian network that targeted influencers to peddle anti-vax messages

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Figures are seen in front of the Facebook logo in this illustration taken on March 20, 2018. REUTERS / Dado Ruvic

Aug. 10 (Reuters) – Facebook (FB.O) said on Tuesday it had removed a network of accounts from Russia that it was linked to a marketing company that aimed to recruit influencers to spread anti-vaccine content on COVID jabs -19.

The social media company said it banned accounts linked to Fazze, a subsidiary of UK marketing firm AdNow, which mainly operated from Russia, for violating its policy against foreign interference. Facebook said the campaign used its platforms primarily to target audiences in India, Latin America and, to a lesser extent, the United States.

Company investigators called the campaign a “disinformation laundromat,” creating deceptive articles and petitions on forums like Reddit, Medium and Change.org, and using fake accounts on platforms like Facebook and Instagram to amplify the problem. contents. Facebook said that while the majority of the campaign fell flat, the crux of it seemed to engage with paid influencers and those posts attracted “limited attention.”

False claims and conspiracy theories about COVID-19 and its vaccines have proliferated on social media sites in recent months. Big tech companies like Facebook have come under fire from US lawmakers and President Joe Biden’s administration, who say the spread of vaccine lies online is making it harder to fight the pandemic.

Facebook said the Russia-related operation started with the creation of batches of fake accounts in 2020, likely from account farms in Bangladesh and Pakistan, which claimed to be based in India. He said the network posted memes and comments on its platforms in November and December 2020 claiming the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine would turn people into chimpanzees, often using scenes from the 1968 film “Planet of the Apes”.

Along with this “spam” campaign, Facebook said a number of health and wellness influencers on Instagram also shared the hashtags and petitions used by the campaign. He said it was likely part of the operation’s known tactics of working with influencers.

Facebook said that in May 2021, after five months of inactivity, the operation then began to question the safety of the Pfizer vaccine by pushing out an allegedly “hacked and leaked” AstraZeneca document. Facebook investigators said the two phases of activity coincided with periods when several governments have reportedly discussed emergency authorizations for vaccines.

According to media reports, Fazze reached out to influencers on YouTube, Instagram and TikTok in several countries to ask them to distribute anti-vaccine content for a fee, but two French and German influencers denounced the campaign earlier this year, spurring research on the company.

AdNow did not immediately respond to requests for comment from Reuters. Reuters could not immediately reach Fazze for comment.

Researchers noted an increase in both ‘for hire’ influencer campaigns and also deceptive operations targeting real online personalities to deliver messages to these influencers’ own out-of-the-box audiences.

Facebook said it deleted 65 Facebook accounts and 243 Instagram accounts as part of the Fazze operation. He said 24,000 accounts follow one or more Instagram accounts. The company said questions about the campaign remained, such as who had commissioned Fazze to lead it.

Facebook also said in its Tuesday report that in July it shut down a separate network in Myanmar, linked to individuals associated with the Burmese military and targeting audiences in the country. He said the operation used duplicate and fake accounts, with some posing as protesters and opposition members while others ran pro-military Facebook pages.

The social network banned the Myanmar military from Facebook and Instagram in February, after the military seized power in a coup. Read more

Reporting by Elizabeth Culliford in Birmingham, England; Additional reporting by Polina Ivanova in Moscow; Editing by Nick Zieminski

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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