Facebook has taken down hundreds of accounts linked to anti-vax disinformation campaigns orchestrated from Russia, according to the company.

According to the company, the account network was aimed at India, Latin America, and the United States.

They attempted to recruit influencers to spread false claims in order to undermine public trust in Covid-19 vaccines, according to the report.

Facebook said it discovered links between the network and a botched disinformation campaign from influencer marketing agency Fazze, which is part of a Russian-based company called AdNow, in its latest report on "coordinated inauthentic behavior."

According to an investigation published last month, Fazze offered money to influencers in May of this year to spread false claims about the risks associated with the Pfizer vaccine.

That, according to Facebook, was the network's second attempt to smear Western vaccines.

The same network attempted to falsely portray the AstraZeneca vaccine as dangerous in November 2020, according to their investigation, because it uses a harmless adenovirus derived from chimps.

Memes based on images from the Planet of the Apes films spread across the network, giving the impression that the vaccine would turn people into monkeys.

Around the same time that the Indian government was debating emergency authorization for the AstraZeneca vaccine, these posts appeared on Facebook in Hindi.

Facebook claims that some of the fake accounts used in the campaign came from account farms in Bangladesh and Pakistan.

For violating Facebook's policy against foreign interference, the company said it had removed 65 Facebook accounts and 243 Instagram accounts.

The campaign was described by Ben Nimmo, Facebook's threat intelligence lead, as a "disinformation laundromat" that planted content on a few online forums and then amplified it on other platforms.

Over a dozen platforms were used in the operation. On Reddit and Medium, there were misleading posts, and on Change.org, there were petitions expressing concern about the safety of the AstraZeneca vaccine. 

"There was a purported hack-and-leak, as well as the use of pay-to-publish pseudo-news sites and a Facebook and Instagram network of fake personas."

Despite the campaign's best efforts, Facebook's report found sloppy practices such as mixing languages, such as posting Hindi language memes with Portuguese hashtags.

Fazze was discovered to be a part of AdNow, a Russian company. Fazze, according to a director of AdNow's British arm, is being shut down.

"We treat Covid-19 as a global threat and, thus, are not interested in undermining global efforts in the fight against it, with vaccinating people with the Pfizer vaccine as one of the ways to cope with the virus," the Russian Embassy in the UK said in response to accusations by a German politician that discrediting Western vaccines were in the Kremlin's interests.

Fazze has been removed from Facebook's platform, according to the company.


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