DuckDuckGo “downgrades” Russian disinformation. Search engine users are not happy.

Tech companies are Continue to act as Russia’s war in Ukraine rages on. The DuckDuckGo search engine is the latest platform to take action in the information war that is taking place online.

According to DuckDuckGo founder and CEO Gabriel Weinberg, the privacy-focused search engine has “downgraded” websites in its search results that are “associated with Russian misinformation”.

“Like so many others, I am sickened by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the massive humanitarian crisis it continues to create. #StandWithUkraine️,” Weinberg wrote in a tweet thread on his personal Twitter account. explaining the actions of DuckDuckGo.

For those unfamiliar with DuckDuckGo, the move might not seem too unusual. Social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter have updated their policies to dealing with misinformation on the Russian war. Search engines like Google and even Bing from Microsoft have also taken action against misinformation.

However, the overwhelming response to Weinberg’s tweets about “lower rankings” was outrage from DuckDuckGo’s user base. Some even claim to have already changed their default search engine preferences due to this decision.

“Can you see how quickly most of your user base was put off by this ad?” bed one Answer by @AdamantPluto. “Longtime staunch supporters are talking about quitting the service. Please reconsider your stance on this.”

“It’s not like that my brother,” responded @primalpoly. “We don’t trust anyone to decide for us what ‘misinformation’ is anymore. Let’s make our own calls about it.”

Whenever the topic of alternative online platforms comes up, the focus is usually on social media services such as supposedly free speech networks Social truth or Obtain. Yet perhaps the most successful alternative to Big Tech platforms is actually DuckDuckGo, which was founded in 2008 as an alternative to big search engine giants like Google. The company has always focused on privacy and emphasized user privacy.

According to New York TimesDuckDuckGo currently composes approximately 3 percent of search engine market share in the United States. The growth of the service indicates strong interest from users looking for a more privacy-focused search platform. DuckDuckGo says it currently has a US user base of 30 million people from all political backgrounds. However, it has also been gaining momentum in recent years, as conspiracy theorists and far-right netizens have sought out alternative online platforms in response to Big Tech companies’ content moderation policies.

Unlike most other recent alternative platforms, however, DuckDuckGo was not designed to appease users with a certain political ideology. Yet DuckDuckGo found itself lumped in with these platforms just by be an alternative platform these days. So, whether DuckDuckGo likes it or not, many of these types of users have embraced the search engine.

“The point of DuckDuckGo is that you do NOT do this”, responded @JasonHayward87 on DuckDuckGo downgrade announcement.

“So the only thing that differentiates you from unnecessarily politicized Google search is that you exclude it,” complained another user, @MorganColeBooks.

Weinberg responded to the earlier response on Twitter.

“The whole point of DuckDuckGo is privacy,” he said. “The interest of the search engine is to display more relevant content rather than less relevant content, and that’s what we continue to do.”

Privacy and data collection policies do not necessarily mean content policies. DuckDuckGo itself, however, has marketed that its search engine results do not create the “filter bubble” of content often found with personalized search results based on user data.

DuckDuckGo’s dedication and frequent publicity of its “unbiased results— again, based on its privacy policies — have caused confusion among its userbase after this most recent action.

Regarding content policies unconnected to user data, DuckDuckGo has already moderated its search results. The search engine already prohibits content farms on its platform due to the low quality content often found on these websites.

DuckDuckGo is also often beholden to Big Tech search engine content policies because that’s where it actually gets its search results. For example, when the infamous “Tank Man” Chinese protest photo temporarily faded away from Bing last year, the photo also stopped appearing in DuckDuckGo search results.

These nuances don’t seem to affect how DuckDuckGo users think of Weinberg’s announcement. At the time of this article’s publication, Weinberg’s “lower ranking” tweet has been replied to over 10,000 times and received over 3,000 quote tweets. The tweet has less than 600 retweets. In Twitter lingo, this is called being “proportionate– when a tweet receives more replies than shares, it means that the wider Twitter user base disagrees with what is being said.

In addition to downgrading some websites, Weinberg also announcement that DuckDuckGo would display “news modules and information boxes” pointing users to “quality information” for certain news topics. Many platforms like Facebook and YouTube already offer similar features. Google calls them “knowledge panels” on its search engine. However, this feature doesn’t seem to have caused an uproar like DuckDuckGo’s downgrade.

Mashable has contacted DuckDuckGo for comment. We’ll update this article when we get back to you.

UPDATE: March 10, 2022, 2:35 PM EST A spokesperson for DuckDuckGo provided Mashable with a statement regarding its decision to “downgrade” Russian disinformation websites.

“The primary purpose of a search engine is to provide access to accurate information,” writes a DuckDuckGo spokesperson. “Disinformation sites that deliberately spread false information to intentionally mislead people are cutting directly at this utility… We are simply using the fact that these sites engage in active disinformation campaigns as a ranking signal that the content they produce is substandard, just as there are signals for spam sites and other substandard content.”

As mentioned earlier, this isn’t the first time DuckDuckGo has moderated the quality. And as Protocol covered earlier this month, this isn’t the first time DuckDuckGo has taken action regarding Russia’s war in Ukraine, either. The company recently “suspended” its partnership with the Russian search engine Yandex. DuckDuckGo used the results of the service for some of its search queries in certain countries.

DuckDuckGo’s full statement as provided to Mashable can be found below:

The primary purpose of a search engine is to provide access to accurate information. Disinformation sites that deliberately spread false information to intentionally mislead people cut directly against this utility. Current examples are Russian state-sponsored media sites like RT and Sputnik. It’s also important to note that downgrading is different from censoring. We simply use the fact that these sites engage in active misinformation campaigns as a ranking signal that the content they produce is substandard, just as there are signals for spam sites and others. lower quality content. In addition to this approach, for newsworthy topics, we also continue to highlight reliable media coverage and reliable “instant answers” at the top of our search results, where they’re seen the most and the most. clicked. We are also considering other types of interventions.

UPDATE: March 10, 2022, 3:33 PM EST Additional information from DuckDuckGo has been added to the article regarding its US user base statistics and why people use the platform.