Russian search engine Yandex is more likely to promote conspiracy theory content in its search results than any other major search engine, according to a new study. published Wednesday.
More than half of Yandex’s front-page search results for controversial terms such as “flat earth” and “George Soros” were for pages promoting conspiracy theories, researchers at the University of Zurich have found.
This was a significantly higher share than among the results shown by any of the other search engines tested – Google, Yahoo, Bing and DuckDuckGo, which together with Yandex make up the five largest search portals in the world.
“All search engines except Google consistently displayed results promoting the conspiracy and returned links to conspiracy-dedicated websites in their top results,” the researchers, led by Aleksandra Urman, found. postdoctoral researcher at the Social Computing Group of the University of Zurich.
“The search engine with the highest proportion of content promoting the conspiracy was Yandex.”
Researchers set up bots to simulate dozens of search queries for six controversial terms – ‘9/11’, ‘George Soros’, ‘Illuminati’, ‘QAnon’, ‘flat earth’ and ‘new world order’ – then tracks and categorizes the first page results provided by different search engines.
The simulation, which was conducted in English, used computer servers in three different locations on two different dates to mimic the behavior of a real user. Although the searchers reported some differences in results depending on the location and time of the search, the most important factor was the search engine used.
About 65% of all search results on the first page of Yandex for terms were links to pro-conspiracy websites or articles. Google returned almost none, while between 25 and 40 percent of the results from the other three were for pages that advanced debunked conspiracy theories.
Yandex was also the only site that did not return results to science or research websites and was much more likely to include social media posts – which also featured conspiratorial content – in its results.
The study is a preprint publication, which means it has not yet been peer-reviewed.
Yandex did not respond to the Moscow Times’ request for comment.
The researchers said they chose a mix of terms that would simulate users already interested in conspiracy theories, such as “QAnon”, and more neutral search queries about people and events, such as “George Soros” and ” 9/11″, to assess which search engines were more likely to place conspiracy theory sites high in their results – potentially pushing users to read about conspiracy theories when they were simply looking for information or basic facts.
“While it can be assumed that only users already interested in conspiratorial content deliberately navigate to dedicated niche websites, their appearance in the top search results, especially for queries that do not denote conspiracy theories by itself (e.g., “9/11” or “George Soros”) can potentially lead to accidental exposure to conspiracy theories. This is troubling, given people’s high trust in search results,” concluded Researchers.