The European Commission has sent Google a request to remove Russian state media results for searches performed in countries within the EU. As The Washington Post reports, Google has uploaded a letter from EU officials to a database of government requests. In it, the officials explain how the commission’s official order to ban the broadcast of RT and Sputnik in the European Union also applies to search engines and internet companies in general.
If you’ll recall, the commission issued a ban on the state media outlets a few days after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began. Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, said back then that by doing so, the outlets “will no longer be able to spread their lies to justify Putin’s war.” While it wasn’t quite clear how the order applies to internet companies, Facebook, Twitter and TikTok promptly restricted access to RT and Sputnik across Europe. Google also announced its own restrictions, but only for the outlets’ YouTube channels.
In the letter Google has uploaded, officials explained that search engines play a major role in disseminating content and that if the company doesn’t delist the outlets, it would facilitate the public’s access to them. Part of the letter reads:
“The activity of search engines plays a decisive role in the overall dissemination of content in that it renders the latter accessible to any internet user making a search on the basis of the content indication or related terms, including to internet users who otherwise would not have found the web page on which that content is published…Consequently, if search engines such as Google did not delist RT and Sputnik, they would facilitate the public’s access to the content of RT and Sputnik, or contribute to such access.
It follows from the foregoing that by virtue of the Regulation, providers of Internet search services must make sure that i) any link to the Internet sites of RT and Sputnik and ii) any content of RT and Sputnik, including short textual descriptions, visual elements and links to the corresponding websites do not appear in the search results delivered to users located in the EU.”
Google didn’t return The Post’s request for comment, but the publication says a search conducted within the EU didn’t bring up links for “Russia Today.” RT links still showed up for us, however, when we conducted searches using Google Austria and France.
The letter also said that the order applies to “posts made by individuals that reproduce the content of RT and Sputnik” — for example, screenshots of articles from those outlets — and that social networks must delete those posts if they get published. That could create a deluge of additional work for social media websites already struggling to moderate content posted by their users. According to The Post, though, the actual sanctions law doesn’t define the order in the way that’s written in the letter, so the officials’ interpretation could be challenged in court.