Polluted Russian city wants 'positive' Google search results

Posted by Emma Woollacott

Russian city Chelyabinsk - widely known as the most polluted in the country - is using taxpayers' money for a search engine optimisation project aimed at cleaning up its image (though not the city itself).

Chelyabinsk suffers on several fronts. It houses many polluting industrial facilities, including a metallurgical plant and a ferroalloys factory.

Worse, though, is the area's nuclear legacy. In 1957, nuclear waste exploded at the Mayak plant in the closed town of Ozyorsk, spewing out radioactive emissions estimated at one-twentieth of the Chernobyl disaster.

The story was hushed up until 1989. But environmentalists report that the region remains highly dangerous, and that many of its people are suffering radiation -related diseases such as cancer.

And, now, local authorities have launched a state tender worth around $10,700 calling for companies to optimize search results so that at least 80 percent provide a 'positive' or neutral' image of the region on Google and Russia's Yandex search engine.

It wants these to pop up after searches on terms such as 'radiation in Chelyabinsk', 'dirtiest city in Russia' and 'ecology of the Urals'. 

"when an organ of state power uses budget money so that people requesting information on 'the accident at the Mayak NGO' receive 80 percent positive feedback is just disgusting and immoral," says Alexei Navalny, who exposed the tender on his blog.

But the region's press secretary has defended the move. "The problems with the environment in the Chelyabinsk region have been swollen beyond recognition," she told Navalny, claiming that negative stories about the region were being spread by environmental activists in the pay of foreign industrial competitors.