German Social Media Users Asked to Participate in Pfizer COVID Vaccine Smear Effort

Social media users in Germany said they had a similar experience to French influencers when they were contacted to be part of a campaign to spread disinformation about the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine.

French YouTuber Léo Grasset told the Associated Press that he was contacted by a "shady advertising agency" that "wanted me to talk about the Pfizer vaccine in a way that would be detrimental to the Pfizer vaccine reputation."

"There is an exchange between the European authorities concerned," German Foreign Ministry spokesman Christofer Burger told reporters. "They are part of a network that has regular contact about cases of disinformation and also about how to deal with individual incidents."

French government spokesman Gabriel Attal praised the influencers for resisting the spread of false information online. "I want to salute the great responsibility of these young YouTubers or influencers who not only didn't fall for this and didn't, through cupidity, allow themselves to be manipulated but also denounced it publicly," he told the AP Wednesday.

Pfizer Online Smear Campaign
Syringes with doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine on May 20 in Salerno, Italy. Ivan Romano/Getty Images

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below:

Grasset, who has 1.1 million subscribers on YouTube, said he and other social media and internet content-creators are "at the center of something going on like an information war."

The person who contacted Grasset identified himself as Anton and said his ad agency has a "quite considerable" budget for what he described as an "information campaign" about "COVID-19 and the vaccines offered to the European population, notably AstraZeneca and Pfizer."

Specifically, "Anton" asked for a 45- to 60-second video on Instagram, TikTok or YouTube to say that "the mortality rate of the Pfizer vaccine is 3 times greater than the AstraZeneca" and querying why the European Union is buying it.

He refused in a follow-up email to divulge who is financing the campaign, saying: "The client prefers to remain incognito."

Instructions he sent also said that if influencers agreed to take part then they shouldn't say that they were being sponsored and should "present the material as your own independent view."

Grasset shared the email exchanges with The Associated Press. He said that given his large YouTube following, he might have earned tens of thousands of euros (dollars) had he agreed to take part.

Instead, he wrote back that "I can't work for a client that won't give its name and who asks me to hide the partnership."

The AP sent emails requesting comment to a contact address listed on ad agency's website and to the email address used by "Anton." Neither elicited a response.

The AP was not immediately able to determine who hosts the website of 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 to public scrutiny. A Cloudflare spokesman said the U.S. company does not host and did not say who does.