- Influencers in France and Germany say an ad agency tried to pay them to diffuse misinformation.
- The agency specifically requested targets on the Pfizer vaccine, per Le Monde and the WSJ.
- The company appears to have ties to Russia, the reports said.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
A mysterious marketing agency tried to pay French and German social media influencers to spread misinformation about the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, reports say.
Documents shared by the French influencer Léo Grasset seen by Le Monde showed that the company, called Fazze, offered the influencer money to publish content on YouTube, Instagram, and other social media platforms.
This video would have to say that Pfizer vaccines have caused more than a thousand deaths around the world, according to the documents seen by Le Monde, a claim that is not correct.
One clause of the deal was that the sponsorship not be revealed, and that the influencers not require the name of the client represented by Fazze, Le Monde reported.
Searches into listings related to the company by Le Monde and The Wall Street Journal suggest that Fazze has ties with Russia.
An unnamed French security official told The Journal that French counterintelligence authorities are investigating the matter and suspect Russian involvement.
France’s health minister Olivier Véran said on Tuesday that he didn’t know whether the campaign originated in France or elsewhere, but called the tactic “lousy,” “dangerous,” and “irresponsible,” BFMTV reported.
‘Collosal budget, client who wants to stay incognito’
The campaign was reported by the French social-media influencers Léo Grasset, Sami Ouladitto, and an account named “Et ça se dit médecin” (French for “And they call themselves doctors”). They have a combined following of over 3 million people, according to BFMTV.
All three said they recceived an invitation to partner on a video to discredit Pfizer’s vaccine, and warned followers to be wary of videos published on that topic, the French news site Numerama reported.
“This is weird. I received a proposal for a partnership aiming to destroy the Pfizer vaccine in a video. Collosal budget, client who wants to stay incognito and the sponsor must be hidden,” Léo Grasset tweeted.
Grasset attached screenshots purporting to be emails from Fazze, which gave instructions to say that Pfizer’s vaccine death rate was almost three times higher than those vaccinated by AstraZeneca, and that this was a fact ignored by mainstream media.
“Et ça se dit médecin” tweeted that they were offered 2,000 euros ($2,400).
The German influencer Mirko Drotschmann also said earlier this month that he had been contacted with a similar offer.
Fazze claimed to be based in London, but provided an address that directed to a beauty salon, Grasset tweeted on Monday.
The Journal reported that Fazze is not registered in the UK.
LinkedIn accounts of employees working for Fazze — which were deleted after details of the campaign were made public, including that of its CEO — suggest that they had been educated in Russia, Le Monde reported.
A post for a Russian employment agency also described Fazze as a subsidiary of Moscow-based marketing agency AdNow, The Journal reported.
Russia has been accused of trying to discredit western vaccines to champion its own, the Sputnik V.
Last month, an EU-backed security and foreign policy watchdog released a report warning that Russian and Chinese state-sponsored disinformation had been targeting Western-developed vaccines.
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