Google to target Russian disinformation

Search giant facing criticism for promoting state-sponsored fake news

Russian state-media is accused of using Google to influence last year's US election
(Image credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Google is preparing to take action against state-run Russian news agencies which have been accused of spreading propaganda and undermining Western democracy.

Eric Schmidt, chief executive of Google’s parent company Alphabet, told a security conference in Canada that the search engine is planning to “de-rank” state-run media such as Russia Today and Sputnik, despite a recent internal review which found the news sites had broken no rules.

Schmidt admitted the previous approach of the technology industry to misinformation had been “naive” and said the company is working to ferret out Russian propaganda from Google News, “after facing criticism that Kremlin-owned media sites had been given plum placement on the search giant’s news and advertising platforms”, reports Motherboard.

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Silicon Valley giants such as Google, Facebook and Twitter have been heavily criticised for failing to crack down on state-sponsored misinformation online, which US intelligence agencies claim may have influenced last year’s US presidential election. Last week, RT, formerly Russia Today, was forced to register with the Justice Department as a “foreign agent” after pressure from Congress.

However, while he claimed the Russian disinformation strategy was easy to combat since it is based on “amplification around a message” of information that is “repetitive, exploitative, false, [or] likely to have been weaponised”, Schmidt refused to ban the sites outright.

“I am strongly not in favour of censorship. I am very strongly in favour of ranking. It’s what we do,” he said.

An investigation by The Guardian this week revealed the extent of Russian penetration of the British media. At least 80 times, news sites including The Daily Telegraph, Metro and Buzzfeed embedded or quoted tweets known to have been written by a notorious state-backed “troll army” based in St Petersburg.

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