Google Restores Russian Newswire Linked to U.S. Election Trolls
(Bloomberg) -- Alphabet Inc.’s Google resumed indexing articles from Russia’s Federal News Agency in its news searches after receiving a warning from the country’s regulator.
Google Tuesday confirmed it again showed FAN items, but declined to elaborate. The company’s news search had stopped showing items from Federal News Agency, known as FAN, in late October.
The decision to block indexing of FAN followed a report in Russia’s RBC magazine linking the agency to the St. Petersburg-based “troll factory” -- a group of private firms that paid employees for creating posts and communities on Facebook Inc., Twitter Inc. and Google, allegedly to influence the 2016 U.S. election. RBC said FAN and the “troll” operation may have a common owner: Evgeny Prigozhin, a wealthy businessman with Kremlin ties. Prigozhin denied any such links, according to RBC.
FAN isn’t connected to the “troll factory,” Evgeny Zubarev, project head at the news agency, said by telephone. He declined to identify its shareholders. It publishes news only in Russian.
“We viewed this as political censorship,” he said, noting that FAN’s coverage on issues such as Syria and Ukraine is widely followed in Russia. “By cutting us off, Google was distorting the information picture of the Russian internet.”
The Google suspension drew sharp reactions from the Russian government. Roskomnadzor, the communications regulator, said last week it sent a letter to Google asking for an explanation of why FAN articles had disappeared from Google News. “Roskomnadzor is safeguarding the freedom of speech and preventing any display of censorship,” the agency said in a statement. Russia’s Foreign Ministry also sent an inquiry to Google on the issue, according to spokeswoman Maria Zakharova.
FAN’s news coverage often follows the official line of the Kremlin on issues such as the conflicts in Syria and Ukraine. The “troll factory” was first mentioned in Russian news reports around 2014, when it allegedly used fake names to post critical views on Kremlin opponents.
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