Fb Shuts Down Russian Marketing campaign That Claimed Vaccine Turns Individuals Into Chimpanzees
A poster for Franklin J. Schaffner’s adventure film “Planet of the Apes” from 1968. (Photo from Film … [+]
Among the bizarre ideas spread on social media over the last year was the claim that the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine would turn people into chimpanzees.
And, according to Facebook, the claim came from Fazze, a Russia-based subsidiary of a UK-registered marketing firm, which has now been booted from the platform.
“This campaign took place in two different waves, separated by five months of inactivity. The network first released memes and comments in November and December 2020 claiming that the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine would turn people into chimpanzees, ”wrote Ben Nimmo, Facebook’s Global IO Threat Intelligence Lead, in a report.
“Five months later, in May 2021, she questioned the safety of the Pfizer vaccine by releasing an allegedly hacked and leaked AstraZeneca document.”
Both phases of the campaign coincided with times when a number of governments, including those in Latin America, India and the United States, were reportedly discussing emergency approvals for the vaccines.
Facebook describes the campaign as “a disinformation laundry” that created misleading articles and petitions on various websites including Reddit, Medium and Change.com. These were then spread through a number of fake accounts on Facebook.
But the campaign also recruited influencers with existing audiences on Instagram, YouTube, and TikTok to post their content.
The company says it deleted the offensive accounts and notified people who may have been contacted by the network, as well as law enforcement agencies, policy makers and other affected platforms.
“That said, there are still some questions about aspects of this campaign – including who hired Fazze to run it – that would benefit from further research by the defense community,” says Nimmo.
“Another question relates to how the ‘hacked and leaked document got into Faze’s hands. As with any influence surgery, it is important to understand the motives behind such leaks in order to put the surgery in context. ”
The Fazze operation, like many others, began by posting relatively harmless material – in this case, content about Indian food and Hollywood actors. However, anti-Vax material soon surfaced, culminating in stills of the Planet of the Apes and claims that the vaccine had turned people into chimpanzees.
Fortunately, according to Facebook, the campaign was a complete failure, almost all Instagram posts received no likes at all and the English-language and Hindi petitions only received a few hundred signatures each.
And as for the influencers, it was their tips that made Facebook aware of what was happening. “Trying to reach influencers turned out to be fatal,” says Nimmo.