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Google News decides not to drop Russia's “troll factory” media outlet, after all

Just two days after Russia’s media regulator Roskomnadzor asked Google to explain why its news aggregator stopped indexing stories from the Federal News Agency (FAN) — a media outlet with ties to the infamous “troll factory” — Google News suddenly restored coverage of FAN content, the outlet reported on November 5.

Without any explanation, Google News dropped FAN on October 27, leading the publication to accuse Google of censorship designed to benefit the U.S. government and restrict users’ access to information about the Russian-backed Syrian regime’s fight against terrorists. 

FAN vowed to appeal to Russian antitrust regulators and other officials. On November 3, Roskomnadzor — Russia's federal Internet censor — sent a letter to Google demanding an explanation, claiming that part of Roskomnadzor's role is the protection of free speech.

Based on the time of day that Google News restarted its aggregation of FAN content, the outlet believes the decision was made by Google’s headquarters in the U.S., not by the company’s Moscow office.

FAN was created in 2014, and it was initially based in the same office in St. Petersburg as the infamous “troll factory,” which was allegedly founded by the catering magnate Evgeny Prigozhin. According to an investigative report published by the magazine RBC in March 2017, the troll factory is tied to a whole “media group” that includes half a dozen publications, where FAN is the most prominent. The total audience for the media network was estimated to be 11 million unique viewers a month.

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