DuckDuckGo reverses course, will demote Russian propaganda in search results

The search engine DuckDuckGo will be down-ranking sites that spread Russian propaganda and disinformation. In a tweet, founder and CEO Gabriel Weinberg wrote that the privacy-focused search engine would be releasing updates that would ensure Russian disinformation sites rank further down in search results. Earlier this month, DuckDuckGo announced it would pause its relationship with Russian-state owned search engine Yandex.

Even if it's for the right reasons, putting a thumb on the scales of search results is an uncharacteristic move for the Pennsylvania-based search company. Unlike Google and major social media platforms, DuckDuckGo has neglected to filter out misleading content on vaccines or elections. A number of platforms including the Meta-owned Facebook and Instagram have started to demote posts from Russian state media. Google has been down-ranking search results from Russian state news agencies since 2017.

Known for being a “privacy-minded” search engine, DuckDuckGo does not track its users or sell data to third parties. The company primarily makes money from affiliate links and non-targeted ads. DuckDuckGo, which regularly donates to digital rights groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation and non-profit newsroom The Markup, has also been embraced by conspiracy theorists and far-right groups in recent years. A number of studies highlighted in the New York Times found that Bing’s search algorithm, which powers DuckDuckGo, surfaces more sites that promote conspiracy theories than Google.

Many fans of DuckDuckGo criticized the search engine for its decision on Russia, likening it to “censorship”. It’s unclear whether DuckDuckGo will make a wider effort to down-rank disinformation. 

Weinberg did not detail in his tweet which Russian propaganda sites DuckDuckGo would target, or whether the search engine will target other types of disinformation, such as on climate change or Covid-19. Engadget has reached out to DuckDuckGo with these questions and will update when we hear back.

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