French YouTuber Léo Grasset was among those contacted. He said on Tuesday he was offered a potentially lucrative but also silent deal to make false claims that Pfizer’s vaccine posed a fatal risk and that regulators and mainstream media were covering up the supposed dangers.
Grasset, who has 1.1 million subscribers on YouTube, says he refused. Other France-based influencers with sizable audiences on Twitter, Instagram and other platforms also said they were contacted with similar payment offers for the posts.
The person who contacted Grasset identified himself as Anton and said his agency had a “considerable enough” budget for what he described as an “information campaign” on “COVID-19 and vaccines offered to the European population, in particular AstraZeneca and Pfizer ”.
Specifically, Anton requested a 45-60 second video on Instagram, TikTok or YouTube to say that “Pfizer’s vaccine death rate is 3 times that of AstraZeneca” and wondered why the European Union is l ‘purchased.
“This is a monopoly and harms public health,” Anton said of the EU purchases.
He declined in a follow-up email to disclose who is funding the disinformation campaign, saying, “The customer prefers to remain incognito. ”
Grasset shared the email exchanges with the Associated Press.
The smear effort drew a disappointing response from the French Minister of Health, Olivier Veran.
“It’s pathetic, it’s dangerous, it’s irresponsible and it doesn’t work,” he said.
The person who contacted Grasset said he worked for an advertising agency called Fazze. A website for Fazze gave an address in London, but that had been deleted from the site on Tuesday. Companies House, where UK companies are registered, has no record of Fazze.
The AP sent emails requesting comment to a contact address listed on the website and to the email address Anton used. Neither elicited an immediate response.
He said influencers who agreed to participate should not say they were sponsored and should instead “present the material as your own independent point of view.”
Further instructions were that influencers should say “the mainstream media ignore this topic” and should ask themselves why governments are buying Pfizer.
A trainee doctor in the south of France with tens of thousands of followers who was also approached for the smear effort told French channel BFMTV that he was offered more than 2,000 euros ($ 3,000) for a 30-second video post.
Grasset said that given the large size of his YouTube subscribers, he might have made tens of thousands of euros (dollars) if he had agreed to participate.
Instead, he replied, “I can’t work for a client who doesn’t give their name and asks me to hide the partnership.”
“Too many red flags,” Grasset said in an interview with AP. “I decided not to do it.”
“They wanted me to talk about the Pfizer vaccine in a way that would damage the reputation of the Pfizer vaccine,” he said.
He said the disinformation effort highlights the need for people to “be super, super careful” about what they see online.
“We creators on YouTube, the internet, Instagram, etc. are at the center of something that is going on like an information war,” he said. “We, as creators, have to set our standards very high because that’s, I think, just the beginning. ”
AP reporter Jill Lawless in London contributed to this report.
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