Fact check: Search engine DuckDuckGo wrongly accused of blocking independent news outlets

The claim: DuckDuckGo’s CEO announced the search engine will 'purge' all independent media

DuckDuckGo, the privacy-focused search engine, has often been the preferred platform of anti-establishment social media users, but outrage at the service recently surfaced over the company's supposed move to control what news outlets visitors could access.

“DuckDuckGo CEO Gabriel Weinberg has announced that the search engine will begin purging all independent media outlets from the platform and will replace them with 'trusted' mainstream media outlets instead,” reads part of a Nov. 9 Facebook post (direct link, archived link) that was shared more than 200 times in three weeks.

The claim also spread widely on Twitter.

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But the claim is false. DuckDuckGo uses assessments by third-party organizations to down-rank websites with low journalistic standards, but they remain on the platform.

USA TODAY reached out to social media users who shared the claim for comment.

Sites with 'extremely low journalistic standards' down-ranked, not removed

Allison Goodman, a DuckDuckGo spokesperson, told USA TODAY the claim is “completely made up.”

“We have never nor are we currently ‘purging’ or removing any media outlets from search results,” Goodman said.

In March, DuckDuckGo CEO Gabriel Weinberg announced updates to the platform that “down-rank sites associated with Russian disinformation” in light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Duckduckgo screenshot.
Duckduckgo screenshot.

After that decision, News Punch, a website that frequently publishes misinformation, ran a bogus headline about Weinberg, according to the website Heavy. In the headline, Weinberg is falsely quoted as saying only mainstream news outlets would be featured on the search engine.

Tweets from both DuckDuckGo’s official account and Weinberg’s personal account in April said the headline was baseless.

“We are not ranking based on any political agenda or my – or anyone else’s – personal political opinions,” Weinberg wrote. “We are also not assessing any individual news stories.”

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DuckDuckGo’s website says it relies on assessments from non-governmental and non-political organizations to identify websites that have “extremely low journalistic standards,” as shown through clickbait stories,  articles without cited sources and other features. Those websites are subsequently ranked lower in search results, but they are not removed from the platform.

“Additionally, impacted sites are not moved so far down in the results that they are effectively removed,” the website says. “Unless legally prohibited, you should find all media outlets in our results, and they should generally show on top if you search for them by name or domain name.”

DuckDuckGo said any user who has a different experience should contact them to investigate the matter.

After the claim resurfaced in November, Weinberg denounced it again and referred Twitter users to his thread from earlier in the year.

Check Your Fact and Africa Check also debunked the claim.

Our rating: False

Based on our research, we rate FALSE the claim DuckDuckGo’s CEO announced the search engine will “purge” all independent media. Neither the CEO nor the company ever made such an announcement. The search engine does down-rank websites with a history of "extremely low journalistic standards," as assessed by non-governmental and non-political organizations, but they are not removed from the platform.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: False claim DuckDuckGo is 'purging' independent media