DuckDuckGo and Russian Disinformation

I've been a long-time user of DuckDuckGo as a functional search engine replacement for Google. Sometime in 2017 or so, I decided to take a hard look at privacy and personal data and took proactive steps to protect myself and shield my personal data from prying eyes. (This had - literally - everything to do with the U.S. Presidential Election of Donald Trump.)

This week, DuckDuckGo's Founder/CEO, Gabriel Weinberg, announced on Twitter that the search engine would be "down-ranking" sites associated with Russian Disinformation.

Good. I'm glad. People are entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts. There's no space for both-sidesing information - especially when it's blatantly false.

Backlash ensues

Mashable reports on some users who are just apoleptic that DuckDuckGo would resort to censoring results. Some are, predictably, pretty far-out there. I'm reminded of the New York Times story about how conspiracy theroists have flocked to DuckDuckGo in an attempt to shift away from "Big Tech," all from the comfort of their iPhones or Dell laptops.

At it's core, the backlash seems to be centered around users who mistake Privacy for Censorship. Taking a stance about content moderation is not a violation of Privacy. It's something that - again, as a long-time user of DuckDuckGo - I'm more than ok with. I don't want to see links to websites that say the sky is green when I search on the color of the sky.

A DuckDuckGo spokesperson sent a statement to Mashable:

The primary utility of a search engine is to provide access to accurate information. Disinformation sites that deliberately put out false information to intentionally mislead people directly cut against that utility. Current examples are Russian state-sponsored media sites like RT and Sputnik. It's also important to note that down-ranking is different from censorship. We are simply using the fact that these sites are engaging in active disinformation campaigns as a ranking signal that the content they produce is of lower quality, just like there are signals for spammy sites and other lower-quality content. In addition to this approach, for newsworthy topics we're also continuing to highlight reputable news coverage and reliable “instant answers” at the top of our search results where they are seen and clicked the most. We're also in the process of thinking about other types of interventions.

Tech Ethics

This is the kind of ethical tech that I'm happy to support.

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