Facebook has removed hundreds of accounts which it says were involved in anti-vax disinformation campaigns operated from Russia.
According to the company, the accounts were targeted at India, Latin America, and the US.
It said that they tried to recruit influencers in order to make false claims and undermine public trust, particularly for Covid-19 vaccines.
In its latest report on “coordinated inauthentic behaviour”, Facebook said it found links between the network and a botched disinformation campaign from influencer marketing agency Fazze – which is part of a Russian-based company called AdNow.
Last month a BBC Trending investigation reported how in May this year influencers had been offered money by Fazze to spread false claims about the risks associated with the Pfizer vaccine.
Facebook claims that this was the second attempt by the network at spreading Western vaccines.
The investigation revealed that the AstraZeneca vaccination was falsely portrayed as being dangerous by the same network starting in November 2020. It uses an innocent adenovirus derived from chimpanzees.
Memes were spread by accounts on the network that featured images taken from Planet of Apes movies to create the illusion that the vaccine will turn humans into monkeys.
The posts were posted in Hindi on Facebook at the exact same moment that the Indian government was considering emergency authorization for AstraZeneca.
Facebook claims that some fake accounts were used in the campaign, which included ones from Bangladesh and Pakistan.
Facebook claimed it has removed 65 Facebook accounts, and 243 Instagram accounts because they were violating its policy against foreign interference.
Ben Nimmo (Facebook’s Threat Intelligence Lead) described the campaign to be “a disinformation laundry” that planted material on several online forums, then increased its visibility on other platforms.
This operation was carried out on more than a dozen different platforms. Reddit and Medium posted misleading posts, while petitions were created on change.org to express concern over the safety and efficacy of AstraZeneca’s vaccine.
Facebook reports that these were shared by few influencers who also used Instagram’s same hashtags. They made reference to the fact AstraZeneca was created from chimpanzee virus.
The campaigns were both unsuccessful, despite various methods.
Jack Stubbs (Director of Investigations for social media analytics company Graphika) stated that in addition to previously exposed efforts to enlist influencers on social media, the operation used a variety of techniques to try to create misleading stories online about Western-made Covid vaccins.
“There was a hack-and-leak. The use of pseudo-news websites that pay to publish and the creation of a fake network on Facebook and Instagram.
Facebook reported that despite all the efforts, there were some sloppy practices. For example, Facebook posted Hindi memes with hashtags in Portuguese.
BBC Trending found that Fazze belonged to AdNow, a Russian corporation. BBC tried repeatedly to get a response from AdNow headquarters in Moscow but was unsuccessful. A director from AdNow’s British division told BBC however that Fazze was being closed down.
Responding to allegations by a German politician about discrediting Western vaccinations being in the Kremlin’s interests, the Russian Embassy in Britain stated: “We consider Covid-19 a global menace and are therefore not interested in undermining international efforts to fight it. We also support the Pfizer vaccine to combat the disease.”
Fazze has been contacted by the BBC again for comments, but emails to Fazze still bounce back to AdNow.
Facebook has announced that Fazze will be removed from its platform.
BBC Trending: An anti-vax plot that failed on the World Service Listen online or download the podcast.
Publiated at Wed. 11 August 2021, 09:17:30 +0000