Facebook closes ‘disinformation laundromat’ that tried to pay influencers to smear Covid vaccines

Facebook closes ‘disinformation laundromat’ that tried to pay influencers to smear Covid vaccines

The social media giant announced on Tuesday that it has permanently shut 65 Facebook and 243 Instagram accounts which have been linked to a campaign to pay influencers to smear the AstraZeneca and Pfizer Covid vaccines.

Facebook took action against the fake accounts, which had attempted to finance a smear campaign against the Covid vaccines produced by the pharmaceutical giants. According to the social media company, the campaign sought to sow misinformation about the vaccines in India, Latin America and the United States.

Social media influencers had been approached by a PR group which offered to pay them to create or share misleading content about the AstraZeneca and Covid jabs, including spreading false information about mortality rates. While some individuals fell for the ploy and posted content, they later deleted it after stories broke about the smear campaign.

In a briefing released on August 10, Facebook called the network of accounts “a disinformation laundromat” that worked to “seed and amplify” misleading information about Covid vaccines on Facebook and Instagram, as well as across a number of other forums.

While Facebook confirmed that the accounts had been closed, it did not speculate on who might be behind the smear campaign, which it said failed by getting “close to zero traction across the internet.” However, despite failing to achieve its goal, Facebook admitted that the campaign had been “an elaborate setup” during a conference call.

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The attempt to pay influencers to share misleading content about the AstraZeneca and Pfizer Covid vaccines was traced back to a marketing firm called Fazze. While Fazze lists its address as in London, it does not appear in the UK’s public register of companies. However, it’s believed to be part of an agency called AdNow, which is listed and uses an address in the London suburb of Barking that appears to be a mailbox linked to numerous companies. 

AdNow was incorporated in 2014 and currently has two officers registered as working at the company: a British man named Ewan Tolladay and a Russian national called Stanislav Fesenko, who uses an address in Hungary. 

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