Google to 'derank' results from Russia Today, Sputnik

Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google parent Alphabet, says Google's algorithms can help limit the spread of misinformation.

Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Alphabet, said Google is working to limit the influence of RT and Sputnik stories.
Stephanie Pilick/dpa/Corbis

Google will "derank" stories from two of Russia's largest news outlets, according to Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google parent Alphabet.

The Alphabet chairman said the search engine's algorithms will be used to limit the reach of RT (Russia Today) and Sputnik, the BBC reported Tuesday. He made the comment Saturday at the Halifax International Security Forum in Canada while discussing the spread of propaganda and fake news.

"We are working on … deranking those kinds of sites. It's basically RT and Sputnik are the two," Schmidt said during a Q&A at the forum. "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."

RT and Sputnik, which are funded by the Russian government, produce television, radio and internet content in several languages for audiences outside of Russia. Both have offices in Washington, DC. Both been accused of spreading propaganda and disinformation. Last week, Sputnik and RT America each registered as a foreign agent with the US Justice Department.

Schmidt also discussed how Google can affect ranking.

"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," he said. "I am strongly not in favor of censorship. I am very strongly in favor of ranking. It's what we do.... You would derank information that was repetitive, exploitative, false, likely to have been weaponized and so forth."

Sputnik and RT Editor-in-Chief Margarita Simonyan responded with a statement published on RT. "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," she said.

Silicon Valley companies have taken steps to limit the spread of false information and propaganda following the 2016 US presidential election. For example, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey has said that his social network will be "off-boarding" advertising from all accounts owned by RT and Sputnik. But the tide of fake news has proven difficult to stem, with misleading ads showing up on fact-checking sites as recently as October.

Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment. RT declined to comment beyond its published statement.

First published Nov. 21, 6:27 a.m. PT.
Update, 7:48 a.m. PT: Adds RT's response to a request for comment and adds more from Schmidt's appearance.

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