“It’s difficult to say what the general audience is for the RSF,” says Tessa Knight, a researcher at the DFRLab and author of the report. “But the fact that they have translated a lot of work into English does indicate that they’re likely aware of the fact that people who are looking at their content on Twitter don’t speak Arabic, meaning they’re potentially targeting an international audience.”
Last year, both YouTube and Meta removed the pages belonging to the RSF and Hemedti on their platforms. YouTube did so after Suliman contacted them. A new Facebook page for the RSF appears to have been started in December, but after WIRED reached out to Meta to ask about the page, Meta removed it. Meta spokesperson Corey Chambliss confirmed to WIRED that “the RSF and its leaders have been removed from our platforms for violating our Dangerous Organizations and Individuals policy.”
But X, says Suliman, never responded to him. Since taking over the platform in November 2022, Elon Musk has gutted many of the teams responsible for moderation, the work that keeps hate speech, violence, and nudity off the platform, leaving very few people for outside researchers and civil society groups to reach out to.
According to X’s policies, the platform prohibits “terrorist organizations, violent extremist groups, perpetrators of violent attacks, or individuals who affiliate with and promote their illicit activities.” A former Twitter employee, who asked to remain anonymous, told WIRED that even before Musk’s takeover, an organization like the RSF would have fallen into a gray area for the platform, because the US does not consider the RSF to be a terrorist organization, a large factor in which groups most social platforms, including X, consider dangerous.
“Twitter allowed some violent organizations on the platform,” the former employee said. “For instance, the Taliban had a Twitter account even before they came to power in 2021.”
“Individual content would be grounds for removal, and if there’s enough content removed, the account can be taken down,” says the former employee. “But it’s treated generally like any other account until that point.”
X did not respond to a request for comment.
At the beginning of the conflict, Knight says, it seemed most of the RSF’s social media presence was geared toward trying to control the international narrative to ”to make it impossible to ascertain what was actually going on.”
This isn’t the group’s first attempts at scrubbing their image. In 2019, RSF contracted a Canadian public relations firm to polish Hemedti’s image, in addition to helping the new military government firm up new oil contracts and lobby for a meeting with then president Donald Trump.
“A lot of people, a lot of activists have tried to contact Twitter to have the RSF account removed, in a similar manner to contacting YouTube and contacting Meta,” says Knight. “And they’re still online, so nothing has really come of that.”