TikTok videos that “glorify” the violence of Russian mercenaries in Ukraine have been viewed more than a billion times on the social media app, misinformation monitors have said.
One of the clips appears to show the October execution of Yevgeny Nuzhin, a former Russian mercenary with the Wagner Group who had switched sides.
Wagner is a private military company with suspected links to the Kremlin and is understood to be fighting alongside Russian troops in Ukraine.
NewsGuard analysts say they identified 160 videos on TikTok that “allude to, show, or glorify acts of violence carried out by the Wagner Group, including 14 that appear to show the execution of Nuzhin, the former Russian mercenary”.
They said content promoting the Wagner Group on TikTok has been viewed more than a billion times.
Russia’s plan ‘failing’ in Bakhmut – follow Ukraine war live updates
TikTok is owned and operated by ByteDance, a Chinese internet conglomerate partially owned by the Chinese government.
NewsGuard also identified more than 500 music videos that, while not depicting violent acts, advocate violence against Ukrainians, including calls to kill Ukrainians because they are “Nazis”.
And they say the clips – which serve as propaganda and recruitment tools for the Wagner Group – appear to violate TikTok’s guidelines, which ban content that “praises, promotes, glorifies, or supports violent acts,” as well as videos that “incite violence against, or otherwise dehumanize an individual or a group”.
About a month into Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Ministry of Defence said Russia was expected to deploy more than a thousand mercenaries, including senior leaders of Wagner to undertake combat operations.
Image: Wagner is believed to have links to the Kremlin and President Vladimir Putin Sir Jeremy Fleming, the head of GCHQ, said they were likely to be used as “cannon fodder” to try to limit Russian military losses.
In August, British military intelligence said Wagner played a role in the capture of Ukraine’s second-largest power plant in the eastern region of Donetsk.
Explainer: What is the Wagner Group of ‘secret’ Russian mercenaries?
The group is believed to be funded by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a businessman with close links to Vladimir Putin who is also alleged to run Russia’s “troll farm”, the Internet Research Agency.
Hitler’s favourite composer
Mr Prigozhin was one of the many oligarchs sanctioned by the West in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, though he has always denied any connection with Wagner.
The European Union says Wagner was founded by Dmitry Utkin – a former Russian soldier reportedly adorned with Nazi tattoos – and is said to have been named after Richard Wagner, Hitler’s favourite composer.
NewsGuard said when it asked TiKTok for comment about the content, it “did not challenge NewsGuard’s findings”.
A TikTok spokesperson said: “There is no place for hateful or violent content on our platform.
“Our Community Guidelines clearly outline that we do not allow people to use our platform to threaten or incite violence, or share attacks or slurs based on people’s nationality or other protected characteristics.
“We will take action on content found to violate these policies.”
Sky News previously spoke to a group of young Russian men who claimed they were recruited by Wagner and flown on Russian military planes to assist troops loyal to Bashar al Assad in Syria.