Anti-vaxxers in France are purchasing fake vaccine passes online, often promoted on mainstream social media platforms, to get around the country’s COVID restrictions, research has shown.
According to a study by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, many fraudulent buyers, who can be used in the European Union (EU), are being redirected to Telegram encrypted messengers from websites such as Instagram and Facebook, where they can discreetly purchase
The report also raised concerns that social media algorithms automatically turn people toward far-flung online venues disillusioned with the French government’s handling of the pandemic.
ISD’s research coordinator, Zoé Fourel, who led the study, said that some Facebook groups devoted to selling fake COVID passes had nearly 1,000 members, with more than 17,000 followers on Instagram.
She added that “I think, in terms of platforms, the main issue here is the scale at which it is available and with platforms like Facebook and Instagram,” she said. “Because they have such a broad audience, they are enabling this content in a big way.
“For Instagram, one of the most disturbing things we noticed is that its algorithms are recommending accounts that are providing fake sanitary or vaccination services, so if you are someone who wants to use Covid disinfection or anti-vax content, your algorithm will recommend more accounts that offer counterfeit passes.
France introduced “health passes” during the coronavirus pandemic, which allowed people to prove their status with a negative lateral flow test as well as vaccination.
But the French government approved last month for a vaccine pass that excludes people unvaccinated from restaurants, playgrounds and other places. According to the ISD, obtaining a fake pass, which can be used in EU member states, is more desirable for anti-vaxxers.
The ISD calls for greater accountability for social media companies, including Snapchat, Meta — which owns Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp — and Telegram and legislation to protect users.
Meta says it prohibits anyone from buying or selling fake or genuine medical documents, including COVID vaccine certificates, on its platform. It says it will remove ads if detected and disable any account, page or group that violates its rules.