Codes of conduct for algorithmic news recommendation: The Yandex.News controversy in Russia
In Russia, since 2011, the Yandex.News aggregator (Yandex.Novosti) — the Russian equivalent to Google News — has been suspected of political bias in the context of protests against electoral fraud followed by the Ukrainian crisis. This article first outlines the issues associated with automated news recommendation systems, their role as “algorithmic gatekeepers” and the questions they raise in terms of news diversity and possible manipulation. It then analyses the controversies which have developed around Yandex.News, particularly since the authorities have decided to regulate the way it operates through a law adopted in 2016. Finally, it provides an audit of Yandex.News aggregation in 2020, through a quantitative analysis of its database of sources and of the Top 5 results presented on the Yandex homepage. It shows the discrepancy between the diversity of the Russian online mediasphere and the narrowness of the Yandex.News media sample. This research contributes to the sociology of digital platforms and the study of “governance by algorithms”, showing how the Yandex news aggregator is a key asset in the Russian government’s overall disciplining of the country’s media and digital public sphere, in an ongoing effort to assert “digital sovereignty”.
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