A recent study found that Google has disproportionately filtered the fundraising emails of Republican lawmakers into hidden spam folders compared to those from Democratic lawmakers, but conservatives disagree over whether the finding is attributable to Google discriminating against Republicans or to recipients’ dislike of the language in emails sent by Republicans.
Republicans are particularly upset about this because a significant amount of political campaign fundraising occurs via email and is critical for rallying base voters and winning elections. Gmail, a free product provided by Google, is the country’s most popular email service.
Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said this past week that the study shows that Google, like other Big Tech companies, has an anti-conservative bias and consistently stifles right-wing speech.
“I think it was a pretty significant wake-up call for the leadership at Google that we are not screwing around and we’re not taking it anymore,” one Republican senator told Politico earlier this week after having a private meeting with Google’s chief legal officer to discuss the spam filter allegations.
But even though conservatives are typically highly critical of tech giants like Google and Facebook and their moderation practices, some say the Gmail filter results are not political.
“Republican claims of Gmail censorship are very overstated, and they should instead reconsider the language they used to try and attract voters,” said James Czerniawski, senior tech policy analyst at Americans for Prosperity, a right-of-center advocacy group.
Republicans tend to engage in more aggressive and inflammatory rhetoric in fundraising emails, Czerniawski said, meaning that they are more likely to have their emails flagged as spam.
“They should think more carefully about the message they’re putting in emails if they want people to actually read them, hear them, and contribute to campaigns” said Czerniawski.
The North Carolina State University researchers who wrote the Gmail study have also denied that Google’s filtering is politically motivated, instead concluding it has more to do with factors like past user behavior and preferences than anything else.
The same study also found that Outlook and Yahoo’s email services disproportionately filtered Democrats’ emails as spam.
Conservatives who are concerned with Big Tech platforms censoring those on the Right say the Gmail filter is one of few examples where Republicans are likely at fault themselves because voters often do not like their fundraising email blasts.
“I’d argue that this happens because the Google algorithm is user-driven and Republicans are yelling at folks in emails all the time, and so the spam filter weeds them out,” said Jon Schweppe, the director of policy and government affairs at the American Principles Project, a conservative advocacy group.
Schweppe added, however, that Google is not transparent in regards to its algorithms and spam filter policy, which breeds mistrust.
“This spam filter accusation isn’t politically driven, but other instances of censorship and blockage make it clear Google is not a fair arbitrator according to Republicans,” said Schweppe.