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Wagner still using Facebook to recruit fighters, despite Meta saying content will be removed

Yevgeny Prigozhin sits inside a military vehicle posing for a photo with a local civilian in a street in Rostov-on-Don, Russia, Saturday, June 24, 2023.
Yevgeny Prigozhin sits inside a military vehicle posing for a photo with a local civilian in a street in Rostov-on-Don, Russia, Saturday, June 24, 2023. Copyright AP Photo, File
Copyright AP Photo, File
By Giulia Carbonaro
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In late May, Meta said it had labelled Wagner as a "dangerous organisation," saying that content promoting the group will be removed from its platforms. A recent study found it's still there.

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Wagner, Russia’s violent mercenary group accused of committing horrifying crimes and human rights abuses across the world in the past few years, is still using Facebook and Instagram to recruit people online, despite the fact that its content violates Meta’s policies.

A new study by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD), an independent London-based nonprofit organisation researching and monitoring extremism and disinformation around the world, found that Meta has failed to remove content celebrating Wagner and containing recruitment information for the group, despite labelling them as a “dangerous organisation.”

Under Meta’s own policies, the company does not allow any dangerous organisations or individuals “that proclaim a violent mission or are engaged in violence to have a presence on Facebook. We assess these entities based on their behaviour both online and offline – most significantly, their ties to violence.”

In late May, Meta confirmed to Politico that it had identified Wagner as a dangerous organisation, as its social media platforms were revealed to be used to recruit fresh blood into Russia’s violent mercenary group.

“We designated the Wagner Group as a dangerous organisation, meaning it cannot have a presence on our platforms,” a Meta spokesperson told the newspaper, adding that content containing “praise or substantive support for Wagner” is also removed “when we become aware of it, including posts that aim to recruit for them.”

But the problem has persisted, despite Meta’s own policies and declarations.

Over a hundred accounts promoting Wagner

The organisation found a total of 114 accounts on Facebook and Instagram that were either impersonating or glorifying Wagner or posting recruitment content for the mercenary group.

The accounts posted in at least 13 languages including English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Arabic, Macedonian, Polish, Romanian, Indonesian, Vietnamese, and Russian.

The negative impact of these accounts cannot be underestimated. Fifteen of the 57 accounts found on Facebook had more than 10,000 followers or members as of August 16, while the 57 accounts found on Instagram had an amassed following of 10,175 users.

AP Photo, File
Members of the Wagner Group military company sit in their vehicle on a street in Rostov-on-Don, Russia, Saturday, June 24, 2023.AP Photo, File

Some 23 of these groups shared information about recruitment into Wagner, calling it “the strongest private army in the world.” Crucially, some videos tried to convince potential recruits that they wouldn’t be cannon fodder for the group, but would be welcomed into the Wagner “family.”

In some videos shared on the Facebook accounts, on the other end, Wagner's leader Yevgeny Prigozhin could be heard declaring that the “Third World War” was near.

Besides posting Wagner-related content, the accounts also shared pro-Kremlin propaganda.

While the posts about recruitment, shared before the mutiny, contained information and contacts that appeared authentic, ISD could not find “any credible evidence” linking these Facebook pages, groups, and profiles directly to Wagner.

Euronews has contacted Meta for comment.

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