France’s Health Minister is said to be furious after French social media influencers claimed they were contacted by a shady company registered in London and staffed by Russians offering them money to trash talk the Pfizer vaccine.
The Health Minister, Olivier Veran, slammed the move, labelling it “lousy” and “dangerous”.
Popular YouTuber Leo Grasset, who boasts a whopping 1.17 million subscribers on his Dirty Biology channel, told French media on Monday that he was offered EUR 2,000 (GBP 1,730) to publish negative content about the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine.
And according to French broadcaster RTL, messages like this had started to reach influencers as early as 20th May.
The agency offering the money – called Fazze – was revealed to have a registered address in London in the United Kingdom, according to investigations carried out by French newspaper Le Parisien, as well as by influencers including Leo Grasset.
Fazze belongs to a holding company called Ad Now Media, with both companies headquartered in London, according to French media outlet BFMTV.
But BFMTV say some investigating quickly led them away from the UK and towards Moscow. They quote Antoine Daoust, the co-founder of fact-checking website Fact N Furious, as saying: “We couldn’t find much on Fazze on Google so we went to Yandex, the Russian search engine. We came across a job offer in Moscow, a customer service position for Fazze.com”
Daoust added: “The more we dug, the more we noticed that it was a tangled ball. But the end of the line always brought us to Russia.”
BFMTV also spoke to tech journalist Julien Cadot, who said that on the UK companies register “it is not registered anywhere. If we take a look on Google Maps to see its address, we come across a laser hair removal center, or a post office box with 170 different companies.”
Daoust added: “The profiles of the employees of AdNow or Fazze always referred us to Russian LinkedIn accounts.”
BFMTV noted that many of these profiles were being shut down as interest into the controversial incident grows.
Cadot also noted that “the communication regarding the Russian vaccine Sputnik-V is extremely similar to what this agency offers. These are the same kinds of language: Talking about the fact that the ‘mainstream media does not talk about it’, asking people to draw their own conclusions from this so-called evidence.”
French Health Minister Olivier Veran is furious, according to BFMTV, telling them: “I don’t know where it comes from, from France or from abroad. It is lousy, dangerous, irresponsible and it does not work because the French are intelligent people and have understood everything about the health crisis and the right way to guard against it in France and in the world.
“They are largely in the majority today to want the vaccine. And I do not believe that any inclination from anywhere to promote negative communication is likely to distract the French from vaccination.”