Skip to content
Naked Security Naked Security

Google and Twitter turn their backs on Russian media over fake news

Russia Today and Sputnik swear up and down they're legitimate news sources. The FBI, and former employees, beg to differ.

Google is kicking stories from Russia Today (RT) and Sputnik News into the basement. The Russian news outlets’ stories are to be deranked in the wake of Congress’ investigation into the country’s alleged meddling in the 2016 presidential election, while Twitter has said “Nyet!” to taking more of their ad-buying rubles.

As the BBC reports, Alphabet, Google’s parent company, Chairman Eric Schmidt said that the deranking was a move against the spread of misinformation. He announced the move while speaking at the Halifax International Security Forum:

We’re well aware of this one, and we’re working on detecting this kind of scenario you’re describing and deranking those kinds of sites.

Schmidt specified RT and Sputnik. He said that while he doesn’t like censorship, he’s gung-ho about ranking – that is, after all, “what we do,” he said.

The Alphabet chief said that it’s a constant battle to stay ahead of those who want to game Google’s search algorithms. Just like the search giant is always tweaking its algorithms to detect “weaponized” information, those with an agenda are always looking to get “better tools too”.

He’s right: this is hard. Google Search’s job is to decide which web pages (and in what order) represent the best response to a given user query, and that’s no easy task. As it is, Google already makes a huge amount of decisions on our behalf. Those decisions regularly include de-ranking or penalizing sites that are slow, sites that are insecure, sites that have aggravating pop-up ads, sites that are gaming the system, sites that deliver little or no value, sites that are new, or sites that aren’t user friendly, for example.

Page ranking is a secret sauce, but search engine optimization experts will tell you that there are more than 200 factors that Google takes into account.

And now, the lead-balloon of deranking is going to be foisted onto news sites that US intelligence has labelled cogs in “Russia’s state-run propaganda machine.” A report on Russia’s alleged interference in the 2016 election said that the publications “made increasingly favorable comments about” Trump as the campaign progressed “while consistently offering negative coverage” of Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee.

Reporting on the FBI investigation into Russian propaganda, The Los Angeles Times in September quoted former correspondents who said that the FBI is absolutely right about the news outlets being propaganda outlets.

The newspaper quoted Andrew Feinberg, a former White House correspondent for Sputnik whom FBI agents interviewed for two hours in August about how much Russia pulled the strings at the publication:

[Sputnik] is not a news agency. It’s meant to look like one, but it’s propaganda.

Feinberg said that during his five months at Sputnik, his editors had no appetite for anything but stories about political conspiracies, making it clear that this was per orders from Moscow:

They always wanted to make the U.S. government look stupid. I was constantly told, ‘Moscow wanted this or Moscow wanted that.’

The publications vehemently deny being anything but independent news sources.

Sputnik and RT Editor-in-Chief Margarita Simonyan had this to say in a scornful statement:

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.

Both Sputnik and RT last week registered with the US Department of Justice (DOJ) as foreign agents. They went kicking and screaming: It was either that or face potential felony charges of violating the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).

Twitter, for its part, banned RT, Sputnik and all of their linked accounts from buying advertising, effective immediately as of the end of October.

Twitter said that it didn’t come to the decision lightly:

We… are taking this step now as part of our ongoing commitment to help protect the integrity of the user experience on Twitter.

Twitter said the move was made in light of the US intelligence community having named RT and Sputnik as state-sponsored election meddlers. The company’s planning to take the $1.9 million it’s made in global ads sales from RT since they became an advertiser in 2011, including $274,100 in 2016 US-based advertising, and donate it all to support external research into the use of Twitter in civic engagement and elections.


Have such measures been taken against other governments’ “news agencies” ?
For example: Saudi press agency or Alalam news agency from Iran or Xinhua News Agency?
Not that I’m saying these agencies attempted to influence US elections, but if one is looking for some ‘fake news’, look no further.


I agree and I don’t think anyone disputes disinformation from US news sources is rampant also. People say CNN and Fox are on opposite sides along Dem and Rep parties. Which is also manipulation of news for political agenda. Many of my IT friends and I read non-US sources to get a,,,, expanded version of events. Like this blog/news site being non US and non biased politically, which deep thinkers like info sec people like :)


Russia Today and Sputnik were not openly portraying themselves as Government run media as Pravda and TASS do and Fully 99% of news media around the world will skew news to fit an agenda so to speak. I think we should all agree on a definition of the phrase “Fake News” because at this point it is nothing more than a catch phrase or a tag if you will allow. Forgive me but I am old school when it comes to new and the media. Give me the facts and nothing but the facts. I will decide what to believe and I assure you that I am hard to convince. As for Google and Twitter, they will go with whatever makes them money and look good in the eyes of the public. That is business hard and cold.

Thank you Miss Vaas for another fine article.


Facts and nothing but the facts can still be misleading the the emphasis is uneven.

Suppose I edit a local newspaper, and every time a black person is convicted of a crime I report it on the front page with a big photo, but if a white person is convicted, then it gets put on page 37 next to an advert for bath chairs. Pretty soon most of my readership will be convinced that most crimes are committed by black people, and yet I can truthfully say that every case before the county court got fairly and truthfully reported.


There would surely be a good case for saying that although your reporting was truthful it was not fair in this case…


News should be news. It should not be possible to “agree” or “disagree” with it. It’s either true or false.
I would say that all US news agencies qualify as “agents”, to a degree. But, not agents of the government; they are agents of certain political classes.
ABC, FOX, and the WSJ at least try to stay unbiased, but even they have a tendency towards bias. The rest (minus possible smaller players I’m not familiar with) are completely hopeless.


Fox as in Fox news?


How exactly are they trying to stay unbiased? Aren’t they basically conservative/republican news?


They seem more center than right wing. Hard to say completely, though, since people (such as myself) tend to see news that is presented agreeing with their viewpoints as “neutral”.
However, what I see is that Fox (and the others I listed) simply don’t have a viewpoint very often, which is exactly what news should be. But, in the case of Fox, you will see news articles that you might not otherwise see. For example, gun control news showing all the facts, rather than just a selected few facts (which CBS, NBC, and CNN do routinely).
But, one thing I should stress: the “opinion section” of any news organization doesn’t count as news. I’m OK with bias there. It’s when the bias bleeds over into selection of topics that I start having problems.
And, of course, outright falsehoods, such as the ones that brought down Dan Rather, simply can’t be allowed on either side (or the middle).


We need to teach people how to read “the news”.
Currently people are expected to choose a few news sources, most of which have no
genuine journalistic principles and push fake news for the simple fact that sensationalism makes money. There is a conflict of interest between news outlets which rely on
page visits to make money and factual balanced reporting. It is incredibly naive to believe mainstream news sources have credibility or genuine journalistic ethics.

To single out a hand full of news outlets labelled fake news by the US government is itself a form of state sponsored propaganda.
It’s the pot calling the kettle black. The mainstream media news is of a quality so incredibly low, google and twitter ought to be blocking almost all of it if they want to take on a principled editorial role.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe to get the latest updates in your inbox.
Which categories are you interested in?
You’re now subscribed!