Hacks who were not working for Tsar Putin aksed Schmidt why real news was chased off Google News while Russian propaganda was being given prime place.
“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. It’s basically RT and Sputnik. We’re well aware and we’re trying to engineer the systems to prevent it.”
Both outlets are wholly owned by the Russian government. RT is the overseas television station and online outlet, while Sputnik, the online-only media network, is available in over 30 languages.
But while Schmidt was willing to take aim at those outlets, and call them out for the “spread of misinformation—or worse” he provided little in the way of concrete plans to lessen the state broadcasters’ reach on his digital properties.
He said he did not want to ban the sites. But the two Russian outlets have been at the centre of questions over Moscow’s efforts to influence politics in the West, and they have shown an adept understanding of how to expand their reach by using the internet, most notably through Google News and YouTube.
In January an American intelligence assessment concluded that RT and Sputnik “contributed to the influence campaign by serving as a platform for Kremlin messaging to Russian and international audiences”. Earlier this month, RT registered with the US Department of Justice as a “foreign agent”.
Even so, both networks have aggressively insist that they are legitimate news organisations, and have benefited from being recognized as a legitimate outlet under Google News.
Schmidt said the Russian strategy is fairly transparent, and usually involves “amplification around a message". That information can be “repetitive, exploitative, false, [or] likely to have been weaponized”, he said. “My own view is that these patterns can be detected, and that they can be taken down or deprioritized.”