Is Gmail marking messages from Republicans as spam? Google says it's based on user behavior, not bias

During the 2020 campaign, Gmail was significantly more likely to flag fundraising emails from Republicans as spam, according to research from North Carolina State University.

During the 2020 campaign, Gmail was significantly more likely to flag fundraising emails from Republicans as spam, according to research from North Carolina State University. (Google.com)



Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY — Politicians like to accuse social media platforms of having political or ideological biases, but the real culprit in Big Tech might be your email provider.

Driving the news: During the 2020 campaign, Gmail was significantly more likely to flag fundraising emails from Republicans as spam, according to research from North Carolina State University.

  • After analyzing more than 318,000 emails, researchers found that Gmail — Google's email platform and the nation's most popular email service — was nearly 60% more likely to mark Republican email as spam, but Outlook and Yahoo are both more likely to send emails from Democratic candidates to the spam folder, according to Axios.
  • "Email providers point to factors such as past user behavior to explain the disparity and dismiss any suggestion of platform bias," Axios wrote.

Why it matters: Last month, the Republican National Committee — along with the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee — filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission. They alleged the party missed out on over $2 billion in donations since 2019.

  • "This is a financially devastating example of Silicon Valley tech companies unfairly shaping the political playing field to benefit their preferred far-left candidates," RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, NRSC Chairman Rick Scott and NRCC Chairman Tom Emmer said in a statement. "Companies like Google don't think you have the right to hear both sides: They'd rather make the decision for you."
  • Google did not respond to comment about the FEC filing, according to The Hill, but had "previously rejected the findings of the ... study."

Utah congressman responds: Utah's Republican Rep. Blake Moore responded in a statement on Wednesday, saying the study demonstrates a "persistent double standard that Utahns are tired of navigating."

  • "For a free and fair democracy to thrive, it is important that all voices and perspectives — regardless of their political leaning — be accessible to consumers," he continued. "Preventing the emails of particular political parties from reaching the inboxes of undecided voters may unduly influence elections."
  • "Each service provider should investigate their algorithms and eliminate this bias," Moore said. "Reducing biases is a key way that technology companies can increase the public trust and quality of our discourse."

The elephant in the room: Republican politicians are not happy with the news, writing to Google that its algorithms make it harder for GOP candidates to get elected.

  • "I am particularly alarmed by this pattern because political dice-loading is nothing new for your company," Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., wrote in a letter to Google CEO Sundar Pichai, according to Fox News. Hawley cited a threat from Google to remove conservative website The Federalist from its ad platform over "racist content" in its comment platform, as reported by Variety in 2020.
  • Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Rep. Ronny Jackson, R-Texas, both weighed in, according to the Houston Chronicle, alleging a conspiracy against conservative politicians.
  • "Gmail is actively suppressing emails from Republicans from hitting your inbox," Jackson said in a tweet. "Straight to SPAM! This is ELECTION INTERFERENCE! Big Tech is out of CONTROL!"

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U.S. electionsBusinessScience & TechPolitics
Bridger Beal-Cvetko

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