In the weeks after the election, tech companies scrambled to shoo fake news off of their platforms. It was too late to stave off pernicious false rumors about Hillary Clinton’s health problems, or her involvement in a nonexistent underground child-prostitution ring, but the companies still moved to make it harder to spread similar misinformation in the future.
Facebook and Google quickly took aim at the most egregious offenders: websites that peddled deceptive news stories in order to attract hordes of readers and make money off of advertising. Both companies banned those types of sites from their powerful ad networks.
But there’s a category of often-misleading news sources that seems to have escaped the notice of tech companies: state-sponsored outlets like RT, a TV network and online news website that’s funded by the Russian government.
As my colleagues Julia Ioffe and Rosie Gray wrote in the Columbia Journalism Review and BuzzFeed, respectively, RT—formerly known as Russia Today—routinely shapes its coverage portray Russia in the best possible light, and to make the West, and especially the United States, look bad. As part of a landmark report released last month, the intelligence community concluded that RT was part of a “state-run propaganda machine” that spread misinformation about the U.S. election. The report said RT “actively collaborated” with WikiLeaks, and gave its founder, Julian Assange, a platform from which to publicize documents stolen from top Democrats. (Some experts say, however, that the intelligence community may have overstated the channel’s influence.)