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Russia slams Google over ‘censorship’

Russia has protested to US tech giant Google for its planned de-ranking of Russian media outlets over allegations that Moscow meddled in the 2016 US presidential election.

Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on Thursday Google’s plans to “engineer” algorithms to make it harder for articles from Russian news outlets Sputnik and Russia Today (RT) to appear on the search engine’s news service is direct censorship and a violation of the fundamental principles of freedom of speech, said foreign speaking at a news briefing.

Fake rankings of search results “if introduced, will contradict both common sense and the human right to free access to information on the Internet,” she said.

Speaking at an international forum in Halifax, Canada, last Saturday, Eric Schmidt, the chief executive of Google’s parent company Alphabet, had said that it was easy to combat what he called the Russian disinformation strategy, since it was based on “amplification around a message” of information that is “repetitive, exploitative, false, [or] likely to have been weaponized.”

He said not taking action against the Russians would be “naive.”

Alphabet Inc. Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt

Schmidt attributed “falsehoods” to RT and Sputnik and said the US company was working to give less prominence to “those kinds of websites.”

In her Thursday remarks, Zakharova said the move would directly affect normal competition among the media.

She also said that Google was acting under strong political pressure from US authorities.

Tensions erupted between the US and Russia soon after the November 2016 presidential election in the US. Then-President Barack Obama, a Democrat, charged that Moscow had helped Republican Donald Trump win by hacking Democratic computer systems and dumping potentially damaging information on Trump’s rival, Hillary Clinton, on the Internet.

Moscow has consistently denied that allegation.

Washington and Moscow have moved to designate some news outlets from the other side as “foreign agents,” requiring them to announce their funding and staffing.

A special counsel in the US is, meanwhile, investigating potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

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