A group of YouTubers have exposed a marketing agency that tried to recruit them to spread COVID-19 disinformation.
Throughout the pandemic, false information about the virus and vaccines has been a huge problem. According to the World Heath Organization, nearly 6,000 people around the globe were hospitalised in the first three months of 2020 because of coronavirus misinformation, with at least 800 deaths.
There’s a key difference to understand: misinformation is incorrect information spread without intent to mislead; disinformation is false information with the intention of manipulating people.
Mirko Drotschmann, a German YouTuber and journalist, was contacted in May by Fazze, an influencer marketing agency. It wanted to pay him to promote ‘leaked information that suggested the death rate among people who had the Pfizer vaccine was almost three times that of the AstraZeneca jab,’ BBC News reports.
‘I was shocked, then I was curious, what’s behind all that?’ Mirko said. Over in France, YouTuber Léo Grasset was offered €2,000 on a similar basis – only this client wished to remain anonymous, Fazze said, and instructed him to ‘act like you have the passion and interest in this topic’.
‘If you want to manipulate public opinion, especially for young people, you don’t go to TV… just spend the same money on TikTok creators, YouTube creators. The whole ecosystem is perfectly built for maximum efficiency of disinformation right now,’ Léo said.
Instead of helping the agency, the pair took all the misleading links they were given and exposed the campaign, at which point all the articles disappeared. Other influencers have since come forward to say they rejected Fazze’s offer, while some reporters have expressed concerns over other YouTubers accepting the money.
Fazze is part of AdNow, a marketing company registered in the UK and Russia. Ewan Tolladay, one of its British directors, said AdNow will be shut down in the UK following the controversy.