YouTube got roasted by US senators for being the 'vehicle of choice' for Russian state-sponsored propaganda

Russian President Vladimir Putin gestures at the fort of Bregancon in Bormes-les-Mimosas, southern France, Monday Aug. 19, 2019. French President Emmanuel Macron and Russian President Vladimir Putin are meeting to discuss the world's major crises, including Ukraine, Iran and Syria, and try to improve Moscow's relations with the European Union. (Gerard Julien, Pool via AP)Russian President Vladimir Putin gestures at the fort of Bregancon in Bormes-les-Mimosas, southern France, Monday Aug. 19, 2019. French President Emmanuel Macron and Russian President Vladimir Putin are meeting to discuss the world's major crises, including Ukraine, Iran and Syria, and try to improve Moscow's relations with the European Union. (Gerard Julien, Pool via AP)Associated Press

  • The US Senate Intelligence Committee published a report on Russian election interference on Tuesday.
  • The report accused Google's YouTube of being the "propaganda vehicle of choice" for RT, Russia's state-sponsored news organisation.
  • But lawmakers also wrote that YouTube was less popular than Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter as the platform of choice for large-scale Russian propaganda operations.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

A panel of US lawmakers published a report on Tuesday accusing YouTube of being the "propaganda vehicle of choice" for Russian state-sponsored propaganda outfit RT.

The report by the Senate Intelligence Committee focused on internet misinformation campaigns waged by the Internet Research Agency (IRA), a notorious Russian troll operation that functioned mainly under the guise of fake accounts.

In good news for Google, the report mostly says that Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter were the platforms of choice for IRA.

"There is little evidence that the IRA's operational efforts were as reliant on Google's products as they were on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter to execute the most outwardly visible aspects of their information warfare campaign," the report says.

But, it continues, although Google products aren't as widely used, its hands aren't clean.

Read more: Trump told 2 top Russian officials in 2017 that he wasn't bothered about Russia's election meddling

Of the Google products used YouTube was the most popular, and the vast majority of IRA videos were targeted at black Americans by addressing "racial issues" such as police brutality. However, senators took aim at YouTube for facilitating a much less surreptitious form of Russian propaganda.

"YouTube continues to be the propaganda vehicle of choice for Russia's state-sponsored news organization, RT (formerly Russia Today). As of February 2019, RT had nearly 3.3 million global subscribers on its YouTube channel," the report says.

At time of writing, RT's YouTube channel has over 3.7 million subscribers.

The report also accused Google's search engine of elevating disinformation and extremist content, and gave an example. "Days after the 2016 presidential election, a falsified media account of President-elect Donald Trump having won the popular vote briefly ranked higher than stories that accurately reflected the US popular vote result," the report says.

Trump's rival in 2016, Hillary Clinton, in fact won the popular vote.

Thus far Google has managed to escape largely unscathed by questions of Russian state interference, which have centered more on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter where Russian trolls can create millions of fake accounts. In November 2017 Google's then-general counsel Kent Walker told senators, "Google's products didn't lend themselves to the kind of micro-targeting or viral dissemination that these actors seemed to prefer."

And last December, Google CEO Sundar Pichai acknowledged the state-sponsored bot networks could manipulate YouTube by downvoting videos or flooding them with negative comments. Pichai said Google had sophisticated tools to detect this kind of activity.

The report asked President Trump to condemn foreign interference in American elections, and comes just days after Trump called on Ukraine and China to investigate Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.

YouTube was not immediately available for comment when contacted by Business Insider.

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