A Brookings Institution report has found Russian propaganda had dominated search results on Ukraine until Google’s parent company Alphabet announced it was removing Russian state-backed media outlets from its news-related features. According to the Brookings report:
March 1, 2022 The California-based technology company announced on Tuesday that it would ban Russian state-backed outlets from its Google News search tool after Kremlin outlets performed well in searches related to the conflict. Over the past week, the Kremlin’s propaganda apparatus consistently returned the top search result for two key terms related to the conflict—“DPR” and “LPR,” abbreviations for the break-away regions in Ukraine’s east, the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Luhansk People’s Republic, respectively. On five of the past seven days, searches for “DPR” and “LPR” on Google News surfaced Russian state media as the top result. On each of the past seven days, for the same searches, Russian state media was among the top two results. Searches for “DPR” and “LPR” in Google News, where Russian state media is more likely to surface than traditional search, overwhelmingly return Kremlin content. In the graphic below, we display the top 10 results for each search term and whether they come from Russian state media or another outlet. TASS, the Russian state-owned news agency, dominates these results. Google News searches for “DPR” and “LPR” over the past week returned TASS articles calling for an end to “Kyiv’s aggression” and suggesting the existence of hundreds of mass graves containing the bodies of civilians—including women, children and the elderly – killed by Ukrainians in the Donbass since 2014. Other articles featured in our queries claimed that retreating Ukrainian forces were attempting “to inflict maximum damage on the local population” and that surrendered Ukrainian troops planned a “large-scale offensive in Donbass” that Russia’s “special military operation”—the Kremlin’s euphemism for the invasion—successfully thwarted, preventing a large number of civilian casualties.
Read the full report here.
The Russian News Agency TASS is a major Russian state-owned news agency and one of the largest news agencies worldwide. According to a 2017 research paper on TASS’ coverage of the Ukraine crisis, Russia uses the news agency for international propaganda in its hybrid war.
The Brookings report notes that Google news searches for “LPR” (Luhansk People’s Republic) and “DPR” (Donetsk People’s Republic) were dominated by Russian propaganda channels, and results for “Kiev” included some Russian propaganda. On the other hand, searches for “Kyiev,” “Donetsk,” “Donetsk People’s Republic,” “Luhansk,” or “Luhansk People’s Republic” led users to more authoritative content.
The Global Influence Operations Report reported earlier this week that US tech companies Alphabet and Apple announced they are blocking Russian state-backed media channels from its services, following the decision by the EU to ban these channels over Ukraine-related disinformation.