French anti-vaxxers buy fake Covid passes online | France
Anti-vaxxers in France are buying fake vaccine passes online to circumvent the country’s Covid restrictions, which are often promoted on mainstream social media platforms, research has found.
Many buyers of counterfeits, which can be used across the European Union (EU), are redirected from websites such as Instagram and Facebook to the encrypted messenger Telegram where they can be bought discreetly, according to a study by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (DSI).
The report also raised concerns that social media algorithms are automatically directing people disillusioned with the French government’s handling of the pandemic to far-right online spaces.
ISD research coordinator Zoé Fourel, who led the study, said while some Facebook groups dedicated to selling fake Covid passes had around 1,000 members, there were Instagram accounts with up to 17. 000 subscribers.
“I think in terms of platforms, the main issue here is the scale at which this is available and with platforms like Facebook and Instagram,” she said. “Obviously, because they have such a large audience, they allow this content on a larger scale.
“For Instagram, one of the most alarming things we’ve observed is that its algorithm actually recommends accounts that offer fake health or vaccination services, so if you’re someone who follows a few accounts with Covid misinformation or anti-vax content, your algorithm will recommend more accounts offering fake passes.
“There is a very big problem here with the business model and the design of the platform and how it works.”
France introduced “health passes” during the coronavirus pandemic, which also allowed people to prove their status with a negative lateral flow test, as well as to be vaccinated.
But last month, the French government approved a vaccine pass that excludes unvaccinated people from restaurants, sports arenas and other places. This has made acquiring a fake pass, which can be used in all EU member states, more desirable for anti-vaxxers, according to ISD.
Fourel said: “These passes are valid throughout the EU, so we can see, for example, a Telegram group that is dedicated to European far-right movements and there are people selling fake passes. to pass. It really is a transnational issue.
“You can be in Italy and sell a fake pass to French people and we’ve seen French people being redirected in the comments section to Italian Telegram channels.”
ISD is calling for more accountability for social media companies, including Snapchat, Meta – which owns Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp – and Telegram, as well as legislation to protect users.
Fourel said the upcoming enforcement of the EU Digital Services Act, which aims to tackle the spread of misinformation and illegal content, was “necessary”.
She added: “When it comes to the platforms, it is clear that there needs to be more proactivity in taking action to counter the spread of this type of content, as it clearly violates the policies they uphold.
“We also need more proactivity on the part of the French government.”
Meta says it prohibits anyone from buying or selling fake or genuine medical documents on its platforms, including Covid vaccine certificates. It added that it would remove ads when identified and disable any accounts, pages or groups that violate its rules.
The Guardian has also contacted Snapchat and Telegram for comment.