Videos promoting a notorious Russian mercenary group suspected of war crimes in Ukraine have been viewed more than a billion times on TikTok, according to a new report.
Researchers from Newsguard, a US-based company that studies online misinformation, said they had identified 160 videos on TikTok that “allude to, show, or glorify acts of violence” carried out by Wagner, a shadowy private military contractor owned by Russian tycoon Yevgeny Prigozhin.
Among the most-viewed videos were clips that appeared to show last month’s suspected execution of Yevgeny Nuzhin, a former Wagner member who was reportedly killed with a sledgehammer.
The report, which was released on Thursday, highlighted TikTok’s vulnerability to propaganda glorifying atrocities in Ukraine, despite the social media company pledging to act against content that violates its policies.
TikTok is owned by a Chinese tech conglomerate partially controlled by the Chinese government, even though it is banned in China itself.
TikTop vows to take action on videos
All of the videos appeared to violate TikTop’s own guidelines, which ban content that “praises, promotes, glorifies, or supports violent acts”.
But the researchers found that TikTok’s search algorithms appeared to show users violent content if they searched for “Wagner”.
A TikTok spokesman said the company will “take action” on content that violates its policies.
“There is no place for hateful or violent content on our platform,” they said in a statement.
At least four videos of last month’s suspected execution of Yevgeny Nuzhin, who was reportedly killed with a sledgehammer, were still available on TikTok at the time of the report but they were apparently taken down a few hours later.
Mr Prigozhin, a former convict and an ally of President Vladimir Putin, is also known for bankrolling a number of Russian news websites and a troll farm in St Petersburg that sought to interfere in the 2016 US presidential election.
Wagner’s operations in Ukraine have been extensively covered by friendly bloggers to create an image of the military contractor as a far more efficient military force on the Ukrainian front line.
Pro-Wagner bloggers have not shied away from spreading violent content from Ukraine in an apparent attempt to intimidate and demoralise Ukrainians.
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