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Powers to fight ‘foreign interference’ in search engine results to be included in online safety bill

Powers to counter disinformation spread by Russian propaganda search engines should be included in online safety bill, I can reveal.

The government is set to amend the bill following revelations on the Yandex website, known as Russia’s Google, which carries pro-Kremlin search results on issues ranging from the war in Ukraine to news articles criticizing the West. The listings are available to online users in the UK.

Friday,I revealed that Business Secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg and Trade Secretary Dominic Johnson are co-founders and shareholders of Somerset Capital Management LLPwho owns around 2.5 million shares of the Russian internet giant.

Mr. Rees-Mogg and Mr. Johnson are both in talks to divest their holdings.

A government source at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) said the bill, which is currently going through parliament, will now apply to search engines and include an “offence of ‘foreign interference’ to combat online misinformation.

The DCMS will establish a unit to monitor misinformation, which could ultimately ban websites from operating in the UK if their owners fail to act when false articles are published or appear in search engine listings, I understand.

Business Secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg declined to comment on Somerset Capital Management’s stake in Yandex (Photo: Rob Pinney/Getty Images)

A DCMS source said: “The Online Safety Bill will apply to search services and all companies that allow users to post content online or interact with each other. This also applies to companies whose services are used in the UK but are not based here.

The amendment links the National Security Bill to the Online Safety Bill. The new “foreign interference offence”, created by the National Security Bill, will be added to the list of priority offenses in the Online Safety Bill.

The amendment means that social media platforms, search engines and other apps and websites that allow users to post their own content will have a legal obligation to take proactive and preventative measures to identify and minimize the exposure of people to state-sponsored or state-related disinformation aimed at interfering with the UK.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (center) with Yandex founder Arkady Volozh at the platform’s headquarters in Moscow (Photo: Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images)

The amendment also aims to address material from fake accounts created by individuals or groups acting on behalf of foreign states to influence democratic or legal processes, such as elections and court proceedings, or disseminate hacked information. to undermine democratic institutions.

The purpose of the foreign interference offense is not to spot every instance of disinformation, but rather to understand general trends and coordinated attempts to artificially manipulate the “information environment”.

The DCMS will collect its own evidence of the spread of misinformation, but will also receive examples from other government departments and security services.

As well as targeting disinformation from pro-Kremlin sources about the war in Ukraine, the offense will also target “fake news” and conspiracy theories focusing on a wide range of issues, such as Covid-19 and climate change. .

Somerset co-founder Dominic Johnson was appointed joint Minister of State to the Department for International Trade and the Cabinet Office earlier this month (Picture: Somerset Capital Management)

Dr Itziar Castelló, Associate Professor of Digital Economics at the University of Surrey, said: “What I see is a polarization of society, especially around issues such as climate change, plastic pollution and Covid vaccines.

“With the war in Ukraine, some agencies are investing a lot of money in social platforms in order to spread disinformation. In this situation, service providers have a very important role to play. They pretend to invest, but they don’t invest They have the tools to tag some of the content and define if the content is automated.

“I’m not talking about a complete ban on this information, unless it is illegal, of course, and clearly harmful to young people, for example. But what is missing is more information for the end user. Platforms could implement labeling to explain where the information came from if they wanted to, or were pressured by the government to do so.

Yandex Kremlin Bias

Yandex headquarters in Moscow (Photo: Shamil Zhumatov/Reuters)

Following a search on Yandex on various terms around the war in Ukraine, I was presented with the following best results. The searches were carried out in the Russian language.

Research: Referendums in Eastern Ukraine

Regarding recent referendums in eastern Ukraine, the best result on Yandex indicated an article on the Russian television channel Tsargrad.

The article claimed: “Already on the last day of the referendums on joining Russia, it became quite clear: the inhabitants of the people’s republics of Donetsk and Luhansk, as well as the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions, have firmly decided to sever relations with Kyiv and go under the wing of Moscow.

Another pro-Kremlin outlet is also at the top of Yandex search.

In 2020, the state-owned Sberbank became the sole owner of’s holding company, Rambler Media Group.

A search for the term ‘Ukraine War’ on Yandex yielded pro-Kremlin posts (Picture: Supplied)

The online article about the referendums said: “Based on the results of processing 100% of the protocols in the Zaporizhzhia region, 93.11% voted for joining the Russian Federation. In the People’s Republic of Lugansk, 98.42% of the vote also carries the option of joining the Russian Federation. All protocols were also processed in the Donetsk People’s Republic, 99.23% voted for entry into this country.

“In the Kherson region, this option was supported by 87.05%, follows from the data of local election commissions.”

There is no mention in either of the accounts of residents of the eastern regions of Ukraine going to polling stations to vote on joining the Russian Federation.

The same Google search, however, produces results dominated by the bogus nature of referendums.

Research: Ukrainian War

When the term “Ukrainian war” was entered into the Yandex search engine, the first result listed was an article from the online news site Svobodnaya Pressa.

The article, which refers to “Ze-team” following the common use of the “Z” symbol on Russian military equipment, stated: “British MI6 has informed Ze-team that very soon kamikaze drones will go into swarms – and would destroy the Ukrainian armed forces throughout the country, even in the western region”.

MI6 made no such assessment.

A search result directs Yandex users to a site displaying the Russian Army Z sign and asks readers to donate to the Russian war effort in Ukraine (Picture: Supplied)

Research: Military operation in Ukraine

When using the term still used by the Kremlin to describe its war in Ukraine, top results include a site called Сводки с фронта, which translates to “Reports from the Front.” The site’s logo is the “Z” sign used by Russian forces in Ukraine.

The story, which provides 24 pro-Russian videos, claims that “Ukraine intends to create a dirty nuclear bomb to deter Russia and, if necessary, to use it” in the Battle of Liman, which the Ukrainian forces won last week.

At no time did Ukraine say it would consider using a “dirty nuclear bomb” in its fight to retake its territory from Russian forces. Putin, however, has repeatedly said he is ready to use all weapons at his disposal, raising the prospect of using his nuclear arsenal.

The site is also running a fundraising campaign to help supply Russian troops on the front lines in Ukraine.

Search: Ukraine death Russia

The search results are topped with an article by Dzen.

The article said: “The brutal murders of Russians are not local excesses, but official Kyiv policy. In Ukraine, the rulers carry out massive repressions against its citizens, who do not see the enemy in the Russian Federation.

Another important finding from Tsargrad TV claims that the United States hatched a plan to create an American colony in Ukraine 33 years ago, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, which led to the break-up of the Soviet Union. .

The article reads: “Ukraine has finally turned into an American colony – and at the same time into a full-scale neo-Nazi ‘Anti-Russia’ project.

“However, his training didn’t start at all after the Rebellion in 2014, and not even after the orange revolution 10 years earlier.

The article goes on to refer to “a new investigation” which has “gathered evidence that the West began to make Ukrainians its property more than 30 years ago and spent huge sums on it. However, in right now, this project is about to die”.