LE PECQ, France
(AP) — France's government praised YouTubers and other social media
influencers who refused to be recruited for a smear campaign to spread misinformation
about the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine
to their millions of young followers on Wednesday.
Several France-based influencers with large followings on Twitter
, and other platforms said they were approached with offers of hush-hush payments to make false claims about allegedly lethal Pfizer vaccine risks.
Among those contacted was YouTuber Léo Grasset, who stated that the shady advertising agency that approached him “wanted me to talk about the Pfizer vaccine in a way that would be detrimental to the Pfizer vaccine reputation.”
He and others said they would refuse, and French government
spokesman Gabriel Attal gave them the thumbs up on Wednesday.
“I want to salute the great responsibility of these young YouTubers or influencers who not only didn’t fall for it and didn’t allow themselves to be manipulated through cupidity, but also publicly denounced it,” Attal said.
Grasset, who has 1.1 million YouTube subscribers, claims he and other social media and internet content creators are “at the center of something going on that feels like an information war.”
The person who contacted Grasset identified himself as Anton and stated that his advertising agency has a "quite substantial" budget for what he described as an "information campaign" about "COVID-19 and the vaccines
offered to the European population, particularly AstraZeneca and Pfizer."
“Anton” specifically requested a 45- to 60-second video on Instagram, TikTok
, or YouTube stating that “the mortality rate of the Pfizer vaccine is three times higher than the AstraZeneca vaccine” and questioning why the European Union
is purchasing it.
He refused to reveal who is funding the campaign in a follow-up email, saying, "The client prefers to remain incognito."
According to the instructions he sent, if influencers agreed to participate, they should not state that they were sponsored and should instead "present the material as your own independent view."
Grasset shared the email exchanges with The Associated Press
, claiming that had he agreed to participate, he could have earned tens of thousands of euros (dollars).
Instead, he replied, "I can't work
for a client who won't give its name and asks me to keep the partnership secret."
The Associated Press sent emails requesting comment to a contact address listed on the ad agency's website as well as to the email address used by "Anton," but neither received a response.
The Associated Press was unable to determine who hosts Fazze.com's website immediately. Internet records show that the San Francisco
firm Cloudflare provides cybersecurity protection for the site against denial-of-service and other attacks, effectively masking its host from public scrutiny. A Cloudflare spokesman said the US company does not host Fazze.com and did not say who does.
Social media users in Germany
also claimed to have been contacted for the disinformation
campaign, and German officials stated that the incident was being discussed at the international level.
“There is an exchange between the European authorities concerned,” said Christofer Burger, a spokesman for the German Foreign Ministry in Berlin.
“They are part of a network that has regular contact about cases of disinformation and also how to deal
with individual incidents,” he said, without going into further detail.
This story was contributed to by Frank Bajak in Boston
and Frank Jordans in Berlin.