DuckDuckGo is now downgrading sites associated with Russian disinformation in response to the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine, but some critics say the change amounts to censorship.
DuckDuckGo CEO Gabriel Weinberg announced the downgrade on Twitter. “Like so many others, I am sickened by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the massive humanitarian crisis it continues to create,” he wrote in the tweet, which included the hashtag StandWithUkraine.
“At DuckDuckGo, we have rolled out search updates that downgrade sites associated with Russian disinformation,” he added.
Weinberg did not elaborate on the decision, or how the downgrade will work. But his tweet comes more than a week after the European Union announced it would ban the “Kremlin media machine” for spreading propaganda justifying Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Since then, the internet industry has responded by blocking access to Russian state-sponsored media such as RT and Sputnik News for EU users. Additionally, Twitter has placed warning labels on tweets linked to Russian state media. (Google News decided to downgrade RT and Sputnik News in 2017 for allegedly circulating propaganda.)
Still, not everyone is a fan of DuckDuckGo’s decision. On Twitter, some users equated the downgrade with censorship. Others reference DuckDuckGo’s commitment to “unbiased research”.
“So you censor your users? DDG now decides what is or is not misinformation? This decision should be left to the user,” wrote an user.
“You’ve got that magical ‘misinformation finder’, huh?” wrote another user. “Are you just sure you’re only going to downgrade the things that are wrong?”
DuckDuckGo did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But on Twitter, Weinberg was quick to defend the decision, saying it was necessary to provide relevant search results over misinformation.
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“Search engines, by definition, try to put more relevant content higher and less relevant content lower – that’s not censorship, that’s search ranking relevance,” Weinberg tweeted to a single user.
On Twitter, DuckDuckGo software engineer Shane Osbourne also explained what the company means when it talks about unbiased search results. “Everyone gets the same results, the results are not based on anything related to your personal information,” he said. noted.
UPDATE: DuckDuckGo sent PCMag a statement about its decision to downgrade sites associated with Russian disinformation:
“The primary utility of a search engine is to provide access to accurate information. Disinformation sites that deliberately spread false information to intentionally mislead people are a direct contravention of this utility. Current examples are Russian state-sponsored media sites like RT and Sputnik. It’s also important to note that downgrading is different from censorship. We’re just using the fact that these sites engage in active disinformation campaigns as a ranking signal that the content they produce is of lower quality, just as there are signals for spam sites and other lower quality content.In addition to this approach, for worthy topics of interest, we also continue to highlight reliable media coverage and reliable “instant answers” at the top of our search results, where they are seen the most. s and most clicked. We are also considering other types of interventions.”
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