08 września 2022

Visegrad24 - Trump fans close to Polish Foreign Ministry. Anonymous account mystery revealed

The famous Twitter account @Visegrad24, the tweets of which are often quoted by Polish journalists (and some foreign ones) is officially created by an anonymous "group of conservative friends" who work in the media in Poland and value the Visegrad Group format. We have found out who is part of this group

Tekst przetłumaczyła pro bono nasza czytelniczka pani Olga Janiszewska. Dziekujemy.

The members of this group are exceptionally close to Victor Orbán, but also to Donald Trump, although he has nothing in common with the Visegrad Group.

It was Trump's statement that illustrated the occasional video on the anniversary of Warsaw Uprising. Among Polish politicians, besides Duda and Morawiecki, they also show statements by right-wing MEPs: Dominik Tarczyński and Patryk Jaki.

But the most interesting is the recognition of Visegrad24 among Polish diplomats. Does the Ministry of Foreign Affairs have anything to do with this account? We are waiting for a response from the MFA.

The mysterious English-language account, giving news from "Central and Eastern Europe," was created on Twitter in January 2020. After that, its anonymous creators register profiles on other social media platforms. Today Visegrad24 has 277,000 followers on Twitter, 133 thousand on TikTok, 6 thousand on Facebook and a similar group on Instagram, plus smaller groups of followers on Telegram and YouTube.

They publish news anonymously, often without sources, its editors are unknown, and yet Visegrad24 is widely quoted by the media, not only in Poland, as it is regarded as a reliable source of news. Meanwhile, this is not necessarily true.

News and fake news

It was this account from which the recent scandal involving Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin began. Visegrad24 published the first video, recorded at a party attended by the politician. Until today, it is not clear from whom the administrators of the account received the video or for what purpose it was sent to them.

This is significant because the action of anonymously sharing videos with Sanna Marin may have been planned and coordinated by Marin's internal or external political opponents, such as the Kremlin.

The fact that the Finnish Prime Minister has just iintroduced her country into NATO provokes hostile reactions in Russia and publishing so-called "shaming" videos is typical activity of Russian intelligence services. Today, the video with the Finnish PM, published by @Visegrad24, already has nearly 10 million views.

The same account also featured several fake news, including:

- Leonardo DiCaprio's donation of $10 million to Ukraine

- blocking of PornHub for users in Russia.

Visegrad24 also happens to publish photos from years ago as photographs of current events and misrepresent the troops.

These false or controversial reports are reproduced around the world - Visegrad24 has become very popular on Twitter since the full-scale invasion, many of its posts are war news and because the account is run in English, its tweets are easy to understand (unlike Ukrainian or Russian ones).

They are being shared online not only by twitterers, but also by journalists - Visegrad24 was cited by probably most media outlets in Poland, as well as by numerous foreign ones, including Chinese CNBC, The Times of Israel, Euractiv, Greece's Ieidiseis, Britain's Express and Portugal's Postal.

And this is despite the fact that the account is anonymous, mostly does not give the sources of its news and the website to which it redirects only contains information about the possibility of making donations - to anonymous administrators, of course.

"We are a group of friends..."

There have already been several attempts to detect who is behind Visegrad24. So far it has only been determined that it operates from Poland - the Twitter account was set up from a Polish mobile number, while the Facebook page is run by administrators from Poland.

The creators of Visegrad24 are very careful to remain anonymous. Asked in April 2020 (3 months after the account was registered) by Slovenian political scientist Mario Plesej about who administers the account, they replied: "We are just a group of friends who are interested in the Visegrad Group and the 3SI (that's the acronym for the Three Seas Initiative). Most of us work in news in our own countries, most are conservative, although we have different opinions. Our goal (...) is to strengthen the idea of Visegrad and, by extension, the 3SI."

However, the version about an informal "group of friends" is contradicted by behavior of Polish politicians. When the profile was blocked on Facebook in January 2021, MEP- Patryk Jaki from ruling party PiS - stood up for it, informing that the "Visegrad Group" had been banned on FB.

Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Szymon Szynkowski vel Sęk said at the time that although "the Visegrad24 profile is not an official profile of the Visegrad Group or the Polish Presidency of the Visegrad Group, we value it for promoting the group's activities". That is, the profile is unofficial, but officially appreciated.

The account has been active for 3 years now, since the full-scale invasion of Russia against Ukraine it has been very active, it has launched its channels on more SM platforms, it presents there not only materials found on the Internet - it also has its own videos (so-called shorts) on Polish history or videos with statements of Ukrainian refugees.

All indicates that this activity is somehow financed - it is just not clear by whom.

Warsaw Uprising, Trump and Orbán

Visegrad24 promotes mainly Polish politicians, Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orbán and, perhaps surprisingly, Donald Trump, the former US president. This is best seen on TikTok and Instagram (both platforms generally publish the same material). Here are some examples:

- 1/08/2022 Visegrad24 published a video dedicated to the Warsaw Uprising, which is entirely an excerpt from a speech by... Donald Trump. Archival footage and film excerpts about the Uprising have been inserted under Trump's words

- Trump can also be heard in the video from 13/07 - the former US president, according to Visegrad24 administrators, already in 2018 warned about Germany's energy dependence on Russia and congratulated Poland on Baltic Pipe

- The video from 26/07 is an excerpt from Victor Orbán's speech, in which the Hungarian Prime Minister states that if Donald Trump were the US president today and Angela Merkel was the German chancellor, there would be no Russian-Ukrainian war

- The video from 27/07 emphasizes the convergence of Polish and Hungarian strategic interests in the context of the war in Ukraine, again using Orbán's statements. Although today Hungary's and Poland's attitude toward Russia is radically different (Hungary is generally sympathetic to Moscow, does not support EU sanctions and still buys Russian gas), the Hungarian PM can be heard on Visegrad24 convincing that although on the war issue "Poland and Hungary cannot agree, we must use our intellect to save everything we can from the Polish-Hungarian friendship and strategic alliance for the post-war period".

Other videos criticize the French and German governments, praise President Duda, Prime Minister Morawiecki and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

An important clue in the investigation of who runs Visegrad24 was taken up by the TrueStory (@TrueStoryPolska) - according to its findings, people associated with MEGA (Make Europe Great Again) network, i.e., Polish supporters of Donald Trump and the American far right, whom we described on OKO.press in 2020, may be behind the account.

As the founder of Visegrad24, TrueStory pointed directly to Wojciech Pawelczyk, an associate of Jack Posobiec, a conservative American journalist.

However, according to my online investigation, although the direction indicated by TrueStory is correct, it is not Pawelczyk. Instead, I have identified two other individuals who can be related to Visegrad24. They are:

- Adam Starzynski, a journalist who formerly worked for the English-language program PolandDaily, produced by TV Republika; and the owner of the now-banned @BasedPoland account, which spread extremely conservative content on Twitter

- Stefan Thompson, a video creator and PR specialist (as he describes himself on Facebook), also affiliated with the MEGA network, now a contributor to TVP (a pro-government Polish Public Television).

Starzynski is a Pole born in Sweden. He returned to Poland several years ago. He ran the Twitter account @BasedPoland, which had more than 150,000 followers. They spread negative content about Muslim immigrants and supported Brazil's controversial President Jair Bolsonaro while they promised his son help in organizing a visit to Poland.

They also supported Donald Trump, former far-right Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini and Viktor Orbán. Starzynski made no secret of the fact that he was the owner of the account - he showed photos of himself there, which were easy to identify, as the journalist also produced the PolandDaily program on TV Republika.

On the other hand, on Facebook he used – and still uses - an account named Adam Starski. (Andrzej Górski wrote about the fact that these accounts belong to Starzynski in 2020 on OKO.press - Starzynski did not raise any objections to these statements).

Starzynski on Facebooku and Twitter

These accounts were involved in sharing of Visegrad24 content. Although @BasedPoland no longer exists on Twitter, digital traces of it have remained. They suggest that in the early days of Visegrad24's existence, @BasedPoland account frequently interacted with it - either retweeting its tweets or at least liking them. These are typical networking activities when a larger account wants to support a user new to the platform and increase its reach.

I found even clearer evidence linking Starzynski to Visegrad24 on Facebook. On one of the right-wing groups operating there, Starzynski has repeatedly shared content from Visegrad24 and continues to do so today.

The most recent sharing is from 26/072022 - news about a fight between Polish and Russian tourists in Turkey. "Ours are on the top!" - rejoiced Starzynski.

An analysis of Starzynski's posts in this group shows his entire career path: when he worked at Poland Daily, he published content from that program's website. Then he switched to Visegrad24 and for some time he has also been adding material from the State of Poland Foundation, where, according to his LinkedIn account, he has been working since March 2020.

Tompson videos

He also shared videos by Stefan Tompson, a British-born video creator who has lived in Poland since 2014. In February 2020, as a youtuber who popularizes Polish history, he and youtuber Patrick Ney (a British living in Poland) interviewed Prime Minister Morawiecki at the Katyn Museum.

An excerpt from that interview showed that daily, the two youtubers are on a first-name basis with Poland's prime minister. Tompson currently hosts the historical program "Polish Heritage" on TVP. Some of his videos were shared by the Visegrad24 profile - as his own, without indicating the external source of the materials.

These include, for example, two videos created in cooperation with the Polish National Foundation and posted by Visegrad24 on Facebook in June 2021: one about Cardinal Mindszenty, the other entitled "The Last Thread of Independence".

An interesting example is the "Katyn massacre" - a video about the Katyn crime. Its Russian-language version was published on his Facebook page by Tompson himself. An English-language one could be seen, among others, on the account of MEP Patryk Jaki - the politician pointed to Visegrad24 as the source of the material.

There was also a Spanish-language version, made public on Twitter by Jorge Buxadé, an MEP from Spain's far-right Vox party, who also tagged Visegrad24 in his post. The Polish-language version of the video, meanwhile, was posted on a Facebook group (reposting it from Tompson's account) by Adam Starski, or Adam Starzynski as already described.

Visegrad24 also shared videos from other sources on Facebook. There was footage from Russia's Sputnik and footage from the Belarusian Border Guard website, although the videos posted there during the border crisis were clearly Belarusian propaganda.

Visegrad24 was tagged by Prime Minister's Office and Foreign Ministry spokewoman

However, it is not Starzynski and Tompson's links to Visegrad24 that are most interesting. The analysis revealed that this account, although unofficial, was surprisingly often mentioned and tagged by Polish diplomats and even by the English-language Twitter account of the Prime Minister's Office.

This happened mainly during the period of the Polish Presidency of the Visegrád Group (July 2020 - June 2021). Visegrad24 was thus well-known in right-wing political circles long before the war in Ukraine, despite its low popularity on social media at the time.

The Prime Minister's Office tagged Visegrad24 twice - in February and April 2021. The then-MFA spokeswoman Monika Szatyńska-Luft - tagged Visegrad24 three times in weekly summaries, posted on the official account of the MFA spokesman, between May and July 2020.

Arkady Rzegocki, today head of the Foreign Service and in 2020 Polish ambassador to the UK - twice, in April and November 2020.

Visegrad24 quoted Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki's statement to the German daily Handelsblatt by Pawel Jablonski, Deputy Foreign Minister. Well, Visegrad24 presented the prime minister's main thesis earlier than the official account of the Prime Minister's Office did.

Among the people who entered discussion with this account on Twitter was Eduard Habsburg, Hungary's ambassador to the Vatican. Visegrad24 posts were also spread by accounts belonging to the Polish embassy in the Philippines (FB account), MEP Dominik Tarczynski and MEP Patryk Jaki.

Patryk Jaki on 16/07/2021 also bragged about a "friendly match with diplomats in Brussels," played "on the initiative of Visegrad24".

Well known among diplomats

However, the account was most often marked by Beata Daszyńska-Muzyczka, president of Bank Gospodarstwa Krajowego, which was then launching the Three Seas Initiative Investment Fund (Daszyńska is the President of the Management Board there).

Daszynska is also a member of the President's College for International Policy, operating under the Office for International Policy.

Photos of the Bureau's inauguration were the last tweet from the BGK president's account tagging Visegrad24. Before that, however, from August 2020 to April 2021, dozens of such posts were made. Interestingly, Daszynska also sits on the board of the State of Poland Foundation, where Adam Starzynski currently works.

Such an amount of tagging of the Visegrad24 account by institutional accounts, as well as those belonging to diplomats, politicians or the president of BGK, who is involved in the 3SIIF, indicates that we are not dealing with accidental use of the name in posts, but with a conscious action.

It is likely that the creators of Visegrad24 were known and recognized in diplomatic circles.

If so, does or did the Ministry of Foreign Affairs have ties to the controversial Visegrad24 account? We sent questions on the matter.

After the publication of the article, we received a response from the MFA Spokesperson's Office with the following content: "The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has no connection with the mentioned Twitter account. We also do not have any information that could help answer your questions".

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Anna Mierzyńska

Analityczka mediów społecznościowych, specjalizuje się w analizie dezinformacji. Z OKO.press współpracuje od 2017 roku. Autorka książki "Efekt niszczący. Jak dezinformacja wpływa na nasze życie".

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