For the blissfully unaware, the privacy-focused search engine, DuckDuckGo, caused a bit of an uproar—particularly in right-wing circles—late last week when founder and CEO, Gabriel Weinberg, announced on Twitter that they would be "down-ranking" sites that were deemed as promoting disinformation. In other words, DDG is committing the unspeakable crime of, well, being a search engine...
Like so many others I am sickened by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the gigantic humanitarian crisis it continues to create. #StandWithUkraine️
At DuckDuckGo, we've been rolling out search updates that down-rank sites associated with Russian disinformation.
Quite predictably, the cries of censorship from Freeze Peach Warriors everywhere were immediate, loud, and in some—but certainly not all ways, misdirected.
The entire reason search engines exist in the first place is to help internet users by allowing them to avoid sifting through the almost never ending digital landfill of irrelevant drek and presenting the most accurate results to them as possible. In order for this to be accomplished, these applications must necessarily, as a fundamental basis of their being, find ways to filter out noise and results they deem as undesirable and/or inaccurate. The processes through which the various search engines achieve this are what makes the internet as we know it today even remotely approaching what could be described as "usable."
A search engine cutting the fatty propaganda from the lean "desirable" content is certainly nothing new, and a large portion of those who are left clutching their pearls at the announcement have long been aware of that fact. For a number of them, the manufactured outrage du jour stems not from the fact that the suppression of information is happening, but rather the fact that in the recent age of conspiratorial, political contrarianism, anything labelled by the media or the general public as "disinformation" immediately becomes the new cause célèbre for them to champion.
As with any number of the often ridiculous conspiracy theories that have been peddled over the past few years, it's often not true belief, or even any real desire to prevail or accomplish anything in any meaningful sense that drives them to carry the banner. Instead, their expressions of impotent rage serve to—ironically enough—virtue signal to like-minded contrarians that they, too, simply want to throw a proverbial spanner in the works of a discussion, society, or—well, basically anything at all. In one particular discussion I'd witnessed on Matrix, one user stated that they were fed up with the censorship of the major search engines. Their "solution" was to move to a meta search engine that uses much the same "censored" results they'd get from DuckDuckGo.
This isn't all to say that there aren't valid questions to be asked of DuckDuckGo regarding their internal processes of adjudicating between that which is simply "in dispute" and what is determined to be outright lies. So-called "Big Tech" and "Mainstream Media" sources are not, and should never be, beyond reproach nor given immunity from the view of a skeptical eye, and while I believe that DDG and other search engines taking these actions are probably doing the right thing by demoting blatant propaganda, such a term could often justifiably be applied to any number of outlets here in the States.
Media organizations no doubt seen by the likes of Google or Bing and Yahoo!—and by extension of those two, DDG, themselves—as "reputable" sources are no strangers to twisting a story to the breaking point in order to further a narrative. Watch the Editing TheGrayLady account on Twitter for any extended period of time, and you can watch moneyed interests scold the New York Times' editorial staff almost in real time for letting by too much honesty. If one is particularly tuned into the past—and present, for that matter—actions of the United States government in Central-and-South America, you can watch in awe as the Associated Press paints US mercenaries attempting to overthrow a duly-elected government as poor, hapless vacationers detained by those dastardly socialists in Venezuela for no good reason at all. In January 2021, Reuters and others reported that the then embattled President-Elect, Joe Biden, would simply "recognize" Juan Guaido as the president of Venezuela and, in doing so, endorse baseless claims of an election being rigged in the favor of his opponent—all without even the slightest hint of irony.
On countless occasions, "trusted" media outlets unquestioningly publish PR talking points from police departments and their "unions" word for word after an officer murders a civilian, only for the public to find days or weeks later—and to far less attention—that those statements, in part or whole, were outright lies designed to protect the officer and condemn their victim in the court of public opinion. However, at that point, the damage has been done; the astonishing percentage of the populace who worship anyone behind a badge as infallible heroes has already taken the baton and sprinted away from the grim reality at an Olympic pace.
Do DuckDuckGo, Bing, and others plan on keeping a Propaganda Scoreboard to track these outlets' state-sponsored discretions as well? If they do make transparent the means through which they decide what information is reliable and what information is not—and they absolutely should—will they also focus those same efforts on the information sources in their own back yard? If and when that answer becomes a resounding "no," they may simply be enabling the conspiracy theorists who so loudly moan about Orwell novels they've never read to further and even more reliably spread the very disinformation DDG seeks to extinguish.
"DuckDuckGo" by ijclark is licensed under CC BY 2.0