- The US Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday published a report on Russian election interference.
- The report accused Google’s YouTube of being the “propaganda vehicle of choice” for RT, the Russian state-sponsored news organization.
- But lawmakers also wrote that YouTube was less popular than Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter as the platform of choice for large-scale Russian propaganda operations.
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A panel of US lawmakers published a report Tuesday accusing YouTube of being the “propaganda vehicle of choice” for the Russian state-sponsored propaganda outfit RT.
The report by the Senate Intelligence Committee focused on internet misinformation campaigns waged by the Internet Research Agency, a notorious Russian troll operation that functioned mainly under the guise of fake accounts.
In good news for Google, the report mostly said that Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter were the platforms of choice for the IRA.
“There is little evidence that the IRA’s operational efforts were as reliant on Google’s products as they were on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter to execute the most outwardly visible aspects of their information warfare campaign,” the report said.
But, it continued, while Google products aren’t as widely used, its hands aren’t clean.
Of the Google products used, YouTube was the most popular, and the vast majority of IRA videos were targeting black Americans by addressing “racial issues” such as police brutality. Senators singled out YouTube, however, as facilitating a much less surreptitious form of Russian propaganda.
“YouTube continues to be the propaganda vehicle of choice for Russia’s state-sponsored news organization, RT (formerly Russia Today),” the report said. “As of February 2019, RT had nearly 3.3 million global subscribers on its YouTube channel.”
At the time of writing, RT’s YouTube channel had over 3.7 million subscribers.
The report also accused Google’s search engine of elevating disinformation and extremist content and gave an example. “Days after the 2016 presidential election, a falsified media account of President-elect Donald Trump having won the popular vote briefly ranked higher than stories that accurately reflected the US popular vote result,” the report said.
Trump’s Democratic presidential rival in 2016, Hillary Clinton, in fact won the popular vote.
Thus far Google has managed to escape largely unscathed by questions of Russian state interference, which have centered more on social-media platforms like Facebook and Twitter where Russian trolls can create millions of fake accounts. In November 2017, Google’s general counsel at the time, Kent Walker, told senators, “Google’s products didn’t lend themselves to the kind of micro-targeting or viral dissemination that these actors seemed to prefer.”
And last December, Google CEO Sundar Pichai acknowledged that state-sponsored bot networks could manipulate YouTube by downvoting videos or flooding them with negative comments. Pichai said Google had sophisticated tools to detect this kind of activity.
The report asked Trump to condemn foreign interference in American elections, though its release comes just days after Trump called on Ukraine and China to investigate the 2020 American presidential candidate Joe Biden.
“We’ve invested significantly to detect phishing and hacking attempts, identify foreign interference, and protect campaigns from digital attacks,” a YouTube spokeswoman told Business Insider. “We’ll continue this work and will keep sharing information with law enforcement and industry.”