How Google Helps Russian Propaganda
Who to blame: search engine recommendations or reading tastes of Russians?
9 Mar 2023
How Google Helps Russian Propaganda

Since the beginning of Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Google has been fighting Russian propaganda. For example, in March 2022, the company blocked YouTube channels associated with RT and Sputnik. But the propaganda remained in Google News and in the Chrome browser. Lev Gershenzon (the founder of Yandex.News and now also of its own news aggregator True Story), pointed this out on Facebook. “The Russian government cynically pressures Google, plundering it on a huge scale along the way — the fines in Russia already seem to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars, while Google continues to display propaganda and yellow press to millions of users,” he said.

IStories asked several Russian users to forward the recommendations to Google.

Here are some headlines: “Favorite dish from the Soviet past: fry a Leningrad-style sausage” (Gorodovoy), “Silenced Popov and Skabeyeva [Russian propagandistsEditor’s note]: Zakharova [Director of the Information and Press Department of the Russian Ministry of Foreign AffairsEditor’s note] swore on air” (, “Ukrainian analyst Chernik admits Bakhmut’s surrender soon” (, “Western countries will be paid for every projectile sent to Ukraine” (, “Anti-Russian sentiment swept Moscow universities” (Readovka).

A quote from the latter publication: “At Moscow International University, as, in fact, at other universities in the country, the education system is poisoned by a Western parasite that educates schoolchildren and students on the basis of an anti-state, pro-Western policy. All this with the approval of the administration that either turns a blind eye or openly endorses such sentiments.”

Google Discover algorithm is behind recommendations in Google News and the Chrome browser. According to [Russian web traffic counterEditor’s note], in February 2023, the top media outlets whose sites were visited by users from Google Discover were:, Komsomolskaya Pravda, A Teper Vnimanie (“Attention Now!" in English), and On these sites, news "from the celebrities’ lives" creates a friendly environment for news about holiday payments to mobilized people fighting in Ukraine and Putin's so-called achievements. These sites get one to two million user clicks a day from Google.

Here we would like to make two clarifications.

  • First, the web traffic counter is used, according to its own data, by about 560,000 sites, but the total number of sites in the Russian segment of Internet is ten times greater. Thus, we do not know the big picture — what other sites Google recommendations lead to. But we know for certain that they, in particular, lead to the above-mentioned junk — Important Stories compared data with another counter — Top.Mail.Ru, they mostly matched.
  • Second, Google Discover recommendations depend on the user and his behavior. In other words, news about sausage and Putin can be associated with the user's web activity history — he or she got what he or she wanted. Also such recommendations can depend on Google Discover's view of some average user, if he visited the site for the first time. “When they talk about good algorithms, I can remind you of the number of hits on, which I don't think anyone has even heard of,” — argues Lev Gershenzon. — “That site [] is an endless stream of yellow press. And it gets the most clicks from Discover.” According to Gershenzon, “they somehow hacked Google” — meaning that found a way to use Google Discover's algorithm to get the most traffic.

Google Discover generates a personalized news feed based on the user's favorite content and sources, argues the search engine optimization specialist, who asked for anonymity. Google’s analysis of metrics of materials with an audience with similar interests also matters: “The growth or decline of certain sites is associated primarily with what users want to read and what information they trust more.”

Lev Gershenzon believes that Google should refine its algorithm so that it does not recommend yellow press and outright propaganda. Media analyst Vasily Gatov believes that in a situation where two-thirds of Russians “are sick of Solovyov and Kiselyov and Skabeyeva with Popov and Gordon [Russian propagandistsEditor’s note] but still watching them,” it will be impossible to reeducate the user by improving the algorithm.

Google has not yet responded to Important Stories' request, sent on March 4.