FB removes Russian network spreading jab misinformation

Facebook removes Russia-based network that spread vaccine misinformation

The network targeted audiences in India, Latin America and the United States

Facebook said it had taken down 65 Facebook accounts and 243 Instagram accounts associated with the firm and barred Fazze from its platform. Credit: AFP File Photo

Facebook said Tuesday that it had removed a network of accounts based in Russia that spread misinformation about coronavirus vaccines. The network targeted audiences in India, Latin America and the United States with posts falsely asserting that the AstraZeneca vaccine would turn people into chimpanzees and that the Pfizer vaccine had a much higher casualty rate than other vaccines, the company said.

The network violated Facebook’s foreign interference policies, the company said. It traced the posts to a marketing firm operating from Russia, Fazze, which is a subsidiary of AdNow, a company registered in Britain.

Facebook said it had taken down 65 Facebook accounts and 243 Instagram accounts associated with the firm and barred Fazze from its platform. The social network announced the takedown as part of its monthly report on influence campaigns run by people or groups that purposely misrepresent who is behind the posts.

“This campaign functioned as a disinformation laundromat,” said Ben Nimmo, who leads Facebook’s global threat intelligence team.

The influence campaign took place as regulators in the targeted countries were discussing emergency authorisations for vaccines, Facebook said. The company said it had notified people it believed had been contacted by the network and shared its findings with law enforcement and researchers.

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Russia and China have promoted their own vaccines by distributing false and misleading messages about American and European vaccination programs, according to the Department of State's Global Engagement Center. Most recently, the disinformation research firm Graphika found numerous antivaccination cartoons that it traced back to people in Russia.

Security analysts and American officials say a “disinformation for hire” industry is growing quickly. Back-alley firms like Fazze spread falsehoods on social media and meddle in elections or other geopolitical events on behalf of clients who can claim deniability.

AdNow, the parent company of Fazze, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Facebook said it had also removed 79 Facebook accounts, 13 pages, eight groups and 19 accounts in Myanmar that targeted domestic citizens and were linked to the Myanmar military. In March, the company barred Myanmar’s military from its platforms, after a military coup overthrew the country’s fragile democratic government.