Alphabet executive chairman Eric Schmidt has announced plans to ‘derank’ Russia Today (RT) and Sputnik stories to prevent the spread of fake news. Speaking at the Halifax International Security Forum in Canada, he mentioned the sites in reference to preventative measures.
“We are working on … deranking those kinds of sites. It’s basically RT and Sputnik are the two,” he said during a Q&A. “We are well aware of it. We are trying to engineer the system to prevent it. We don’t want to ban the sites. It’s not how we operate.”
Both sites are funded by the Russian Government and create content for international audiences. They are often accused of spreading propaganda and over-reporting protests in the US. Shortly after the Sutherland Springs shooting, RT allegedly suggested that Devin Kelley had Antifa links.
Despite this, some will disagree with the decision. Schmidt says Google is against censorship, but others say that deranking has the same effect. Making RT results less accessible could prevent the flow of opposing viewpoints.
“It is a form of censorship, and the idea is to lead readers away from RT content. And it will have an impact on the discourse in this country,” Professor Dan Kovalik, of University of Pittsburg Shcool of Law, told RT. “When [you start] censoring anyone, they are going to censor everyone, and I think everyone in the US should be appalled by this and very concerned.”
RT Editor-in-Chief Margarita Simonyan stated, “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.”
Despite this, it’s worth noting that the details of Google’s implementation are not clear. Sputnik and RT may only experience deranking on certain articles, and it’s not clear how severe it will be.