Congressional Republicans have introduced legislation that would force Google, Meta, Twitter, and other Big Tech companies to stop manipulating data from Republicans and Republican candidates that automatically sends emails to a user’s spam folder.
The bias is especially egregious with Google and their Gmail communications software. Researchers at North Carolina State University recently analyzed emails sent by Republican and Democrat candidates during the 2020 election cycle. What they found was astonishing.
Researchers at North Carolina State University recently analyzed emails sent by Republican and Democrat candidates during the 2020 election cycle. The non-partisan study found that Gmail, which is the largest email provider in the United States, sent nearly 70 percent of emails from Republican candidates to spam while allowing 90 percent of emails from Democrat candidates to sail through Google’s filtering algorithms without issue. A data discrepancy like this one can’t be ignored.
Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) believes the situation threatens the integrity of our elections.
These findings are alarming on many levels, but especially when it comes to the integrity of our elections. Email is a vital method of communication for elected officials and candidates to reach voters, and it’s a problem when the most-used email provider in the United States demonstrates a pattern of limiting political discourse from one of the major political parties while essentially amplifying it for the other party. No major Big Tech company should have the ability to place its thumb on the scales by limiting the content that voters see, especially behind closed doors.
Google claims that many users flag the messages as spam, which is true. I know I flag almost all campaign emails as spam given that they’re from out-of-state candidates.
But if that were the reason for the discrepancy, almost as many Democratic emails would be going to spam as Republican. Democrats are no more or less annoyed by spam as Republicans. That’s not happening, and Google is now being pressured to change the situation.
Google’s pilot program, per the June 21 filing, would be for “authorized candidate committees, political party committees and leadership political action committees registered with the FEC.”
It would make campaign emails from such groups exempt from spam detection as long as they don’t violate Gmail’s policies around phishing, malware or illegal content.
Instead, when users would receive an email from a campaign for the first time, they would get a “prominent” notification asking if they want to keep receiving them, and would still have the ability to opt out of subsequent emails.
Google is playing coy with lawmakers, promising changes to their pilot program while still denying that any political bias is involved.
Google CEO Sundar Pichai visited Capitol Hill last week and met with lawmakers.
Topic discussions included the Republican email filtering bill, a tech antitrust bill making its way to the full Senate floor, USICA and privacy legislation.
What they’re saying: “We want Gmail to provide a great experience for all of our users, including minimizing unwanted email, but we do not filter emails based on political affiliation,” said Google spokesperson José Castañeda.
“We recently asked the FEC to authorize a pilot program that may help improve inboxing rates for political bulk senders and provide more transparency into email deliverability, while still letting users protect their inboxes by unsubscribing or labeling emails as spam. We look forward to exploring new ways to provide the best possible Gmail experience.”
The GOP bill that Google is trying to avoid would require far more transparency from Big Tech. Thune’s Political Bias in Algorithm Sorting (BIAS) Emails Act “would prohibit email platforms from using biased filtering algorithms on emails from federal political campaigns unless a user took a proactive action to apply a label to that email,” according to Thune.
That would be a good start. But Democrats are lining up in opposition to the bill — naturally — because they like the fact that the bias overwhelmingly favors them. Hopefully, a GOP majority in both Houses of Congress will make passage easier.