Videos glorifying Wagner Group in Syria, Ukraine, elsewhere get '1 billion views' on TikTok: report

Videos glorifying Wagner Group in Syria, Ukraine, elsewhere get '1 billion views' on TikTok: report
Videos glorifying violence by Wagner Group mercenaries have been viewed 'more than one billion times' on TikTok, a report by misinformation monitor NewsGuard has revealed.
2 min read
03 December, 2022
Russia-aligned Wagner Group mercenaries have allegedly been involved in conflicts in Syria, western Africa, Libya, and Ukraine [Getty]

Videos glorifying violence by Russia’s Wagner Group mercenaries present in Syria, Ukraine and elsewhere have racked up more than a billion views on TikTok, according to a new report

The report was released earlier this week by the US-based NewsGuard, an organisation that tracks misinformation and rates the credibility of news and information websites online. 

NewsGuard found at least 160 videos on the platform 'depicting or alluding to violence apparently carried out by a private Russian militia called the Wagner Group.'

Videos and images showing an execution in Syria in 2017 appear to have attracted millions of views. The videos show men in military clothing - identified by Russian site Novaya Gazeta as Wagner mercenaries - beating a Syrian man named Mohammed Taha Ismail Al-Abdullah to death with a sledgehammer for allegedly trying to desert the Syrian army. 

The full version of the video shows the fighters dismembering Abdullah and setting him on fire. Other videos glorifying this gruesome act have millions of views on TikTok, NewsGuard said.

Images of this 2017 execution have become a widely used meme on the platform, and NewsGuard found more than thirty accounts featuring the executioner in the video in their profile pictures. Other videos also show young men, possibly minors, posing in the executioner’s clothes. 

Footage of this execution was used to incite violence against Ukrainians, according to the report. 

Around two-thirds of the videos showing this gruesome execution have been removed by TikTok.

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Dozens of other videos glorifying the Wagner Group in Ukraine are also spreading on the platform. 

TikTok did not deny the report’s findings, and a spokesperson told NewsGuard: "We will take action on content found to violate these policies."

The Wagner Group of mercenaries have been involved in Russian military operations around the world. Members of the group, founded by a close ally of Vladimir Putin, have been in action in Syria, Libya, Africa's Sahel region, and Ukraine. 

Russian forces intervened on the side of the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria in 2015. They have since been accused of widespread human rights violations against civilians in the country.