Gmail Spam Filter Bias Against Conservatives?
It may not be as straightforward as a North Carolina State University study claims.
A study that was recently published by North Carolina State University’s Department of Computer Science documented the spam filtering algorithms (SFAs) of three different major email providers: Google, Yahoo, and Outlook. The study’s purpose was to determine if and which SFAs had political bias (i.e., sent political emails to spam), what the bias was, if the SFA bias got worse during elections, and if there was a solution the user had at hand to alter the outcome to favor their own viewpoints.
Here are some statistics that this SFA study uncovers.
As an aggregate trend, Gmail leaned towards the left while Outlook and Yahoo leaned towards the right. Yahoo retained about half of all the political emails in inbox (up to 55.2% marked as spam) while outlook filtered out the vast majority of emails (over 71.8%) from all political candidates and marked them as spam.
In other words, all email servers have biases; some lean right and some lean left. Outlook seems to be the server with the least amount of bias.
We further observe that Gmail marks a significantly higher percentage (67.6%) of emails from the right as spam compared to the emails from left (just 8.2%). Gmail marked 59.3% more emails from the right candidates as spam compared to the left candidates.
That is a significant disparity that only seemed to increase as the 2020 election approached. The outcry from conservative candidates, who have long been seeing an algorithm bias in Google’s search engine, has been great. The financial losses to their campaigns alone are figured to be about $2 billion since 2019.
Because the SFAs are only as effective as the users let them be, users do have a modicum of control to alter these political emails being sent to spam. The study did say that users can prevent these emails from becoming spam by actually opening political emails or, if those emails are already in spam, moving those emails back to the inbox. This tells the algorithm that the email is not spam.
There is, however, a major flaw in this study. It may not be Google’s fault.
The research does, according to a Fox News report, account for five factors that could trigger an email getting sent to spam: “The researchers noted that researchers have studied SFAs in the past and have identified five types of features that appear to influence the decisions of SFAs, including the metadata about email content, the actual content of the email, the reaction of the recipient, the attributes of the sender and the demographics of the recipient.”
This study does a good job gathering data from the receivers’ perspective but it neglects to account for the sender.
To put it bluntly, the researchers ignored a major component of how SFAs work: sender reputation. Sender reputation concerns people or companies that send bulk emails. Rules for bulk emailing include having an unsubscribe button in the email, unsubscribes being immediately and easily honored by the sender, and culling from the mailing list receivers who don’t interact with the emailed content after 90 days.
Bulk emails sent through companies that have a “bad” reputation will be sent to spam. The Patriot Post has never had an issue with Google’s SFAs sending our emails to spam because we follow the guidelines. Maybe the real issue is the companies that candidates use to send emails.
Google, for its part, denies the study’s findings. A spokesperson for Google emphasized, “Political affiliation has absolutely no bearing on mail classifications in Gmail and we’ve debunked this suggestion, which has surfaced periodically from across the political spectrum, for many years.”
Unfortunately for Google, this vehement rejection of the findings in this study does not negate the well-documented fact that Big Tech companies like Google, Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook use their search algorithms, “fact-checkers,” and other censors to stifle conservative voices on their platforms. This does influence the cultural conversation and does affect how people vote. (Hunter Biden’s laptop, anyone?)
Senators Amy Klobuchar and Chuck Grassley have recently cosponsored legislation called the “American Innovation and Choice Online Act.” Its purpose is to target companies like Google for antitrust and consumer choice violations. It passed through a committee with a 16-6 vote.
Bipartisan efforts like this are essential to curbing the chokehold Big Tech has on influencing the cultural conversation and determining who gets to participate in society.
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