Friday, April 13, 2012

Does Gmail's spam filter discriminate against Republicans?

I am on the mailing list for both the Republican and Democratic parties. This is kind of nice, because I always know what talking points each party thinks are going to fire up its own base. For example, just in the past couple of days I've received emails "from" Joe Biden, Barack Obama, and Jim Messina (Obama's chief campaign guy):


Today I went into my Gmail spam folder just to make sure there was nothing important in there. (Mr. Gillette does this daily; I do it about every six months.) I noticed something curious: several of the Republican political emails were in there:



As you can see, multiple emails from the RNC have been identified as spam, but no emails from Democratic shills have been (at least in this time frame).

So, is Google discriminating against Republicans—trying to quiet their political speech?

Two possible explanations occur to me. First, it's possible that at some point I affirmatively marked one of those Reince Priebus emails as spam. I tried to test this hypothesis by clicking on the "Why is this message in the spam folder" link for the April 11th email from Priebus, hoping that it would say that I've marked messages from this sender as spam. But it didn't. Instead, Google told me that this message was "similar to messages that were detected by our spam filters."

This explanation ties into the second possibility: it's possible that lots of other people have marked Mr. Priebus's messages as spam, thus leading Google's computers to believe that it is spam. And in a sense, of course, it is spam—it's just not any different than the Democratic spam that seems to get through unfiltered. But maybe people are less likely to label mail "from" the President and Vice-President spam than they are to mark messages from the weirdly-named Wisconsinite who chairs the RNC.

The other possibility is that Google is evil after all.


UPDATE:

In the last day I've received two emails from the Obama campaign regarding dinner with George Clooney. Thank God the Google spam filter isn't ensnaring these.

8 comments:

  1. To clarify, I check my work email spam folder daily to make sure no client communications were caught. I cannot recall the last time I checked my personal email's spam folder.

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  2. It's painfully clear that Gmail will not use political-content based spam filtering. If Republican mailers do really end up marked as spam more often, it is because they are failing the content-neutral criteria that suggests their emails are spam more often. We could speculate endlessly as to why--maybe more users mark it as spam when they realize it is unfounded conspiracy theory content like this article is.

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  3. God help us if we speculated endlessly on the internet.

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  4. The harm isn't endless speculation. It's making yourself look like an idiot by being a sincere Glenn Beck/Dances With Smurfs.

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  5. Aha. Well, thanks for the insightful anonymous commentary.

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  6. I have seen the exact same thing. Bring this to the attention of the RNC, they are sending emails to authorized email addresses, then they need to go to google and deal with them. I have marked multiple RNC emails "not spam", and today again the latest RNC email went to spam
    Send your email to info@gop.com

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  7. I've been wondering this as well. All my "Viagra" emails and Republican email have been going to my Spam folders for years. Well before Obama's regime.

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  8. Rarely does anything get spammed out by my gmail filter, but ALL Republican and conservative emails ALWAYS get auto sent to the spam folder.

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