Google is planning to de-rank two Russian-funded sites in response to the country’s use of the Internet to spread misinformation during last year’s U.S. presidential election.
Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google parent company Alphabet, told the media this week that the search engine firm would be de-ranking Russian government-backed news agencies Russia Today and Sputnik in its search algorithms.
Schmidt, who announced Google’s decision at the Halifax International Security Forum this weekend, said the tech titan’s goal is to put the kibosh on fake and misleading news.
“We are working on detecting this kind of scenario … de-ranking those kinds of sites. It’s basically RT and Sputnik are the two,” Schmidt was quoted by The Washington Post.
Schmidt added that Google’s decision is not censorship, but an editorial decision.
“I am strongly not in favor of censorship. I am very strongly in favor of ranking. It’s what we do,” Schmidt was quoted by the BBC. “It’s a very legitimate question as to how we rank, A or B, right? And we do the best we can in millions and millions of rankings every day.”
As expected, the people in charge of the impacted publications were angered by Google’s decision.
Margarita Simonyan, editor-in-chief of RT broadcaster and Sputnik news agency, had some choice words for the company.
“Good to have Google on record as defying all logic and reason: facts aren’t allowed if they come from RT, ‘because Russia’ – even if we have Google on Congressional record saying they’ve found no manipulation of their platform or policy violations by RT,” Simonyan said.
Russia’s telecom regulator, Roskomnadzor, also spoke out against Google.
Alexander Zharov, chief of the agency, said Google would be asked to explain any change in ranking that is applied to RT and Sputnik.
“We’ll hope that our opinion will be heard and we won’t have to resort to more serious measures,” Zharov was quoted by The Post.
A Roskomnadzor spokesman also told The Post a note had been sent to Google requesting an explanation of its decision. The agency is also drafting “retaliatory measures” that will be enacted if it believes RT and Sputnik are not being dealt with fairly.