From Nord Stream to Novichok: Kremlin propaganda on Google’s front page

From Nord Stream to Novichok: Kremlin propaganda on Google’s front page

The Russia connectionFrom Nord Stream to Novichok: Kremlin propaganda on Google’s front page


Published 15 June 2018

On 24 May, an international team of investigators announced that a Russian anti-aircraft missile was directly responsible for the downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 (MH17). Initial analysis of social media reactions to these announcements indicated that Kremlin outlets were struggling to effectively counter the new evidence implicating Moscow in the downing of MG17. However, over the next week, conspiracy theories and disinformation narratives from Russian propaganda outlets found a foothold on an impactful and unlikely medium: Google’s front page.



On 24 May, an international team of investigators from the Netherlands, Australia, Malaysia, and Ukraine announced that a Russian anti-aircraft missile was directly responsible for the downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 (MH17). The following day, Australia and the Netherlands officially declared that they held the Russian government responsible for the downing. Concurrently, Bellingcat, McClatchy DC Bureau, and the Insider released a joint report revealing a Russian military intelligence commander as a key person of interest in the investigation.


Initial analysis of social media reactions to these announcements indicated that Kremlin outlets were struggling to effectively counter the new evidence implicating Moscow in the downing of MG17. However, over the next week, conspiracy theories and disinformation narratives from Russian propaganda outlets found a foothold on an impactful and unlikely medium: Google’s front page.


In the weeks following the new announcements surrounding the MH17 investigation, articles from Russian state-controlled news outlets RT, TASS, and Sputnik regularly appeared on the front page of English-language Google searches for “MH17” through the site’s Top Stories function.


Searches run through various VPNs and Google’s incognito mode reveal that the pattern is not limited to a particular English-speaking community or locale. Additionally, searches for “MH17” through a Berlin-based VPN exposed similar results from RT and Sputnik’s German-language affiliates.


The articles published by these sites present an alternative reality to the downing of MH17, often discrediting existing evidence, pushing false narratives, and creating conspiracy theories to undermine readers’ understanding of events.


Unfortunately, the prevalence of Kremlin propaganda in Google’s Top Stories is a relatively consistent pattern. In the days and weeks following several other international events, including the poisoning of Sergei and Yuliya Skripal, Russian propaganda similarly haunted Google’s front page.


Bradley Hanlon is Research Assistant at the Alliance for Securing Democracy. The article, originally posted to the website of the German Marshall Fund of the United States, is published here courtesy of the GMFUS.