Google says it found no evidence that RT manipulated video hosting platform YouTube or violated its policies during the 2016 US election campaign. It comes amid a frenzy in the US over alleged Russian meddling in the election and RT’s coverage in particular.
On Monday, Richard Salgado, Google’s director for law enforcement and information security, shared the results of the company’s investigation into how Google products may have been misused to affect the election. The two-page report falls far short of revealing the smoking gun that some commentators were hoping for.
Google identified two accounts linked to the Internet Research Agency, a Russian-based NGO accused by some US media reports of being a Russian government “troll bot factory.” The accounts spent a total of $4,700 on Google platforms during the 2016 election cycle on search and display ads, the report said. The ads were not targeted at specific groups based on geography or political preferences.
On YouTube, Google found 18 channels “likely associated” with the campaign that published videos in English and “with content that appeared to be political,” but not exclusively so. The channels uploaded 1,108 such videos representing 43 hours of content and totaling 309,000 US views from June 2015 to November 2016, the report said, noting that a single user may generate multiple views on a single video. Only 3 percent of the videos generated more than 5,000 views, Google said. Neither channel was targeted at the US or any particular part of the US public. The company has suspended the channels in question.
The report also specifically mentioned the use of YouTube by RT, which remains the most-viewed international news network on the platform. “Some have raised questions about the use of YouTube by RT, a media service funded by the Russian government,” the document said. “Our investigation found no evidence of manipulation of our platform or policy violations; RT—and all other state-sponsored media outlets— remains subject to our standard rules.”
Commenting on Google’s report, RT’s Editor-in-Chief Margarita Simonyan said: “As they said in school, QED [Latin: quod erat demonstrandum, English: ‘what was to be shown].”
Earlier, microblogging website Twitter banned the accounts of RT and another Russian news outlet, Sputnik, from using the service’s advertising mechanism. RT criticized the news, saying it was inconsistent with the US-based company’s multimillion-dollar offer of an exclusive ad campaign on Twitter to raise the news outlet’s presence during the 2016 election.
Russian officials say RT is being targeted as part of a general anti-Russian “witch-hunt” in the US. Moscow denies any interference in the US election and says it was drawn into partisan strife in America that has nothing to do with Russia.
Executives from Google, Facebook and Twitter are expected to testify before the US Senate Judiciary Committee's panel on Crime and Terrorism on Wednesday, with more hearings scheduled with other Senate and House committees. The tech giants are to report to lawmakers on the results of their internal investigations into alleged use of their online services by the Russian government to influence the US election campaign.
Leaks from Facebook and Twitter testimonies reported this week imply that the scale of such alleged actions, as identified by the companies, was very small.
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