Alphabet chairman Eric Schmidt, talking at a security conference in Canada this week, said that Google's algorithmic search results should be more discerning and choose higher quality over lower- quality information. He cited RT and Sputnik as examples of news sources that would get dinged.
"We are working on detecting and de-ranking those kinds of sites—it's basically RT and Sputnik," Schmidt said.
Google declined to comment further on how the sites could be affected by changes to the search algorithm. Google often tinkers with its algorithm to improve the relevance and accuracy of the results.
RT, formerly Russia Today, and Sputnik have been forced to register as foreign agents by the U.S. because they were seen as serving the Kremlin's agenda during the election. RT especially has been in the spotlight since Twitter claimed it paid only to promote stories that were critical of Hillary Clinton. After an internal investigation, the messaging company said it would no longer let the Russian news sites buy ads on Twitter.
Google has had a long relationship with RT through YouTube, where the media site's channel has 2.2 million followers, and until recently it had been among a select group of Google Preferred video partners, which qualified it as a premium place for advertisers.
Last month, RT fell out of Google Preferred because it failed to meet the view count requirements, not because of the election or how it covers news, a YouTube spokeswoman said at the time. At the top of its channel page RT claims that it has 5 billion YouTube views, seemingly a response to claims that its traffic is waning.
Wary of showing their brands next to objectionable content, advertisers have been looking more closely at where their ads run around the web. YouTube set off the brand scare this year when ads from major brands began showing up on videos from extremists.
RT and other news sites have become part of the conversation around brand safety since the election, with advertisers now concerned about "fake news" sites, which Google and Facebook have been trying to squeeze out of the advertising technology ecosystem.
RT has pushed back against the platforms, and even published communications from Twitter asking it to buy election advertising to the tune of $1.5 million.
RT responded to Schmidt's comments, quoting its editor-in-chief Margarita Simony: "Good to have Google on record as defying all logic and reason: facts aren't allowed if they come from RT, 'because Russia'—even if we have Google on Congressional record saying they've found no manipulation of their platform or policy violations by RT.'"