Far-right influencers have often encouraged people to use the tiny privacy-focused search engine DuckDuckGo instead of Google, claiming the giant search engine censors conservative ideas.
Praise for DuckDuckGo turned to outrage this week, however, after the company said Russian misinformation would be minimized on its site.
DuckDuckGo CEO Gabriel Weinberg tweeted Thursday that the search engine would rank websites “associated with misinformation” lower in its search results.
“Like so many others, I am sickened by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the massive humanitarian crisis it continues to create,” he wrote.
DuckDuckGo has little control over its search results as they are powered by Microsoft’s Bing, which announcement that he would follow European Unionto restrict access to the Russian state news agencies RT and Sputnik.
But the far-right criticism was directed at DuckDuckGo. Conservative website Breitbart said DuckDuckGo “adopts the censorship policies” of Big Tech. In social media channels devoted to conspiracy theories, users have vowed to switch to alternatives like Russian search engine Yandex. The #DuckDuckGone hashtag was trending on Twitter in the United States on Friday. And on YouTube, users slammed the company for silencing voices.
“If you use DuckDuckGo, I suggest you stop using it and move on,” said Tarl Warwick, a self-proclaimed libertarian YouTube user with nearly half a million subscribers. He added: “I want tens of thousands of people to stop using it.”
In a statement, Kamyl Bazbaz, vice president of communications at DuckDuckGo, said the affected sites were engaged in “active disinformation campaigns”, meaning they were similar to other low-quality websites already. penalized by search algorithms.
“It’s not censorship, it’s just search rankings,” he said.
The backlash underscored the difficulties some tech companies have had in limiting the spread of Russian propaganda at a time when pockets of America are voicing support for the Kremlin and believe big tech companies are censoring their views.
Last month, The New York Times reported that search results on DuckDuckGo and Bing turned up more dubious websites than the same searches using conspiracy theory terms entered into Google.
DuckDuckGo controls about 3% of the US search engine market. The site is particularly popular among privacy campaigners because the company does not track its users, unlike Google and Bing.
The company also announced this month that it put a break on its relationship with Yandexthe Russian search engine, which provided some links to results in Russia and Turkey.