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Until Google Removed Russian Propaganda from Its News-Related Services,  It Was Dominating Search Results on Ukraine

March 3rd, 2022 11:31

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.