Social Media Influencers from Germany and France go public after being approached by an ad company that offered them cash to spread disinformation about COVID-19 Vaccines.
A group of social media influencers have won the internet!
In a previous post, I mentioned how disgraced former doctor Andrew Wakefield fraudulently promoted a non-existent connection between autism and the MMR vaccine. This was due to Wakefield having a financial conflict of interest. This resulted in his paper being retracted from The Lancet and ended his career. There have been several other attempts to misinform the public about vaccines’ safety and efficacy—especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The latest plot to deceive the public was exposed when social media influencers went public after a marketing agency tried to recruit them to spread disinformation about COVID-19 vaccines. Fortunately, a few had a conscience and exposed them. In this instance, they were offered cash incentives. A subsequent investigation by the BBC revealed that the mastermind behind this might have ties to The Kremlin. The intentions were to mislead western nations into not trusting Western-made vaccines.
I’ll admit that it appeared to be something straight out of a spy novel. It even gave me ideas for a plot in a future book—especially after reading the BBC news article. This story has all the elements:
- A mysterious ad company was hired by an anonymous client.
- Email sponsorship offers to a few social media influencers to recruit them.
- The hook: social media influencers will spread leaked internal documents that suggest that the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine resulted in three times more deaths than the Astra-Zenica.
One of the email recipients was a German YouTube star and journalist named Mirko Drotschmann. He usually ignores emails from companies asking him to advertise their products to his 1.5 million followers. However, the email he received was from a marketing agency called Fazze with a cash offer. This caught his attention as it became apparent that he was being recruited to deceive the public by undermining their confidence in vaccines during a pandemic.
“I was shocked,” says Mirko “then I was curious, what’s behind all that?”
A French YouTuber, Léo Grasset, was also approached by Fazze, who offered him 2000 Euros to perpetuate the lie about the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. When Grasset was told that the client chose to remain anonymous, it made him even more suspicious about the motives behind his recruitment.
Curiosity got the better of Drotschmann and Grasset, who decided to play along to learn more. They were being recruited to use their status as social media influencers to lie to their followers. But what was more egregious was that they were also instructed not to disclose their sponsorship. Failure to not disclose one’s sponsorship is against social media rules. In France and Germany, it’s against the law.
The data Léo and Mirko were given was gathered from various sources and taken out of context. The data listed the number of people who died after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine jab. What was missing was that the data did not specify how the deaths were directly related to the vaccine. This data type would excite an anti-vax proponent who would push the conjecture that vaccines are lethal.
An educated person would spot the holes in the data and question its accuracy. For instance, the victims could have died in a vehicular accident for which they were not at fault. Once Léo and Mirko exposed Fazze on Twitter, all of the articles vanished, except for one that appeared in Le Monde.
This may explain why two social media influencers, Indian YouTuber Ashkar Techy and Brazilian prankster Everson Zoio, took Fazze’s offer. German journalist Daniel Laufer identified them. He then contacted them about the videos they posted—along with the fake news links provided by the agency. Once Laufer reached them, they removed the videos without answering his questions.
The BBC’s investigators traced the emails sent to the social media influencers to Ad-Now, a digital marketing company registered in the UK and Russia. As expected, they never answered the BBC’s communications. Both French and German authorities are investigating Fazze, which has since shut down.
Foreign policy spokesman for the German Green party, Omid Nouripour, has hinted at a Russian connection to the Fazze campaign. “Bad-mouthing vaccines in the West undermines trust in our democracies,” said Nouripour. “This is supposed to increase trust in Russia’s vaccines, and there is only one side that benefits, and that is the Kremlin.” Of course, the Kremlin denied that they were involved.
Even though the identity of the anonymous client is still unknown, the idea that the Russians are using social media influencers to undermine public confidence is not too far fetched. Reports surfaced in 2017 that the Russian government was behind two fake Black activists Facebook accounts. It is believed that the purpose was to exploit racial tensions during the Ferguson and Freddie Gray protests to divide Americans (1).
Investigations also revealed that the Russian government interfered with the 2016 US Presidential election (2). The objective was to fuel tensions among Americans and to undermine public trust in the democratic electoral process.
Attempts to deceive the public and undermine trust in vaccines has been going on for years and does not appear to have an end in sight. Social media will always be weaponized. “If you want to manipulate public opinion, especially for young people, you don’t go to TV”, says Grasset. “Just spend the same money on TikTok creators, YouTube creators. The whole ecosystem is perfectly built for maximum efficiency of disinformation right now.”
The moral of the story. When a person of influence who is not a scientist makes unfounded claims about vaccines, please do yourself a favour and ask them who is paying them to make these claims.