There has been a lot of talk about ideological bias in the tech world, but most of that has centered on social media platforms. But what if your email service’s spam filter were far more likely to hit emails sent from right-of-center candidates and groups than their counterparts on the left?
IMGE is a digital marketing firm with an international client base. During the midterm election cycle they conducted an experiment to test the potential for spam filter bias. Here’s how they describe it:
Our team created email addresses with different email providers and signed up for the email lists of around fifty different candidates, committees, and political nonprofits. In the month leading up to the election, we tracked how many emails were sent from each entity, and what percentage of those emails made it into our inbox.
The results are pretty startling, and you should click through to read the whole article, but as a taste here’s a chart showing the percentage of emails from Republican and Democratic candidates in five key Senate races which were filtered as spam by Yahoo:
The article has charts for other email services (Gmail, by the way, didn’t seem to exhibit much bias at all, at least by these findings).
Email may seem like a dated medium to some of you, but it’s still an effective weapon in political campaigns, useful in motivating volunteers and fundraising and, most importantly, votes. If one party’s candidates are seeing a high percentage of their emails filtered, while another party’s candidates are seeing a very low percentage, what’s the explanation?
Is it ideological bias? Are liberal email recipients more likely to send messages from candidates they don’t like to spam? Are Republican candidates using some sort of uniformly bad practices when it comes to email marketing?
Or is this a product of ideological bias in the tech industry? It’s a question worth answering.
I should note here that North Dakota Senator Kevin Cramer did the best among the tested Republicans during his campaign, though his lowest percentage of spammed messages was still nearly 50 percent while his opponent Heidi Heitkamp was at zero.