Is the Polish government secretly funding a Twitter account notorious for spreading disinformation about Eastern Europe?
Chances are that any active Twitter user over the past year will have seen a tweet or two from an account called Visegrad24 and, most likely, the information contained in those tweets will have been fake. Now, an investigation from a leading Polish news site has revealed that the outfit appears to be funded by the office of Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki.
Founded in 2020, Visegrad24 publishes news on Central and Eastern Europe round the clock. Completely opaque, its website is just a single page, with links to its various social media accounts, PayPal, and text asking visitors to “please be patient” as their team is “currently bringing you 24/7 updates from Ukraine on social media.” Who or what is running it and financing it isn’t stated, and a generic email address is the only means of contact.
Visegrad24’s follower base, and its visibility, exploded following the start of Russia's military offensive in Ukraine and it has generally posted multiple times per day about the conflict since. Its Twitter account has amassed almost 320,000 followers at the time of this article’s publication, perhaps due to clear anti-Russia bias, with its posts almost always generating hundreds if not thousands of likes and retweets, and frequently being cited by mainstream politicians, pundits, and journalists, and other media outlets.
However, this rise to prominence has not been without controversy. Many users have drawn attention to Visegrad24’s frequent tendency to publish false information, which often paints a far more positive picture of Kiev’s war effort than the on-the-ground reality. The example linked here shows a debunking of a typical Visegrad24 tall tale.
Fake news pushed by the account includes completely false reports on actor Leonardo DiCaprio sending $10 million to Ukraine, support among politicians in Warsaw for creating a Poland-Ukraine Union, and photos said to be from the Ukraine conflict that are, in fact, many years old.
As such, Morawiecki now has serious questions to answer about whether his office is indeed behind Visegrad24, as a new investigation from Wiadomości strongly suggests.
Wiadomości found that on 23 November, Poland’s Finance Ministry published documents on budget allocations showing Prime Minister Morawiecki allocated 1,396,800 zloty ($313,475) to an entity called Action-Life Foundation, to “finance the implementation of a public task under the name ‘Visegrad24’.”
There appears to be no other organization in the region, or even world, with that name, bar the well-known social media initiative. Seeking clarity, Wiadomości contacted the Prime Minister’s Office, asking if they were one and the same, and the justification for funding the project. Action Life Foundation were asked the same questions.
Initially, the Polish Government Information Center claimed the Prime Minister's granting of the subsidy was issued in response to an offer submitted by Action Life Foundation in September, although it did not provide the contract or any further details, as the agreements “has not yet been concluded” and “procedures are under way to sign the contract for the implementation of this project.” They also did not clarify whether this was the same Visegrad24, and ignored follow-up requests on this question.
Wiadomości also ran into trouble trying to ascertain facts from Action-Life Foundation. Founded in 2014, the organization is officially concerned with “promotion of health protection in all its aspects,” “supporting and initiating the development of sport, culture, education, art, science, medicine, physiotherapy and comprehensive promotion of life optimism,” and “charity activity.”
Wiadomości called the number listed on the Foundation’s website. Oddly, the individual who answered didn’t want to identify himself, although his statements are said to imply he was the one who conducted talks with the Prime Minister’s Office about the Visegrad24 subsidy. However, apparently they were informed on 21 and 25 November, right around the time the funds were officially granted, that “there are no more funds in the budget” and the organization would not be receiving any state money.
However, the nameless man did not want to say who relayed this information, and whether the decision to immediately withdraw the provided subsidy was given in writing. When asked if the Foundation had carried out geopolitical activities prior to being awarded the Visegrad24 project, he mentioned the Festival of Polish-Czech Culture and Song, and when quizzed about the website itself, he declared, “there is no project, so there is no website.” He then hung up.
The Polish Prime Minister’s Office likewise ignored queries as to whether its grant for the Foundation was withdrawn, and whether it happened after Wiadomości asked questions about the Visegrad24 project. Stefan Tompson, a video creator, public relations officer and associate of Polish state-owned TV network Telewizja Polska linked to the Visegrad24 social media operation, didn’t answer a call from Wiadomości, but did read messages from its reporters on these subjects.
Their collective silence speaks volumes. Since the conflict started, an information war has been waged online, which Australian researchers have concluded is heavily weighted in Ukraine’s favor. It would be completely unsurprising if Visegrad24 was in fact financed by the Polish state. What else could account for the reluctance of every individual and official involved in it to hold their hands up?