I have led the fight in the Senate to hold Big Tech platforms such as Google accountable for their manipulation and use of machine learning that unfairly censor communications from political campaigns and rob the electorate of their options. Our latest demands for transparency and fairness apparently spooked Google. But instead of moving to treat all political emails the same and filtering Republican versus Democrat communications as they are now, the tech giant has proposed a “pilot program” in the form of an Advisory Opinion, currently with the Federal Election Commission.
This proposal would eliminate all spam filter algorithms for participating candidates and organizations. While this proposal may appear to be in the best interest of all political emails, Gmail’s current deliverability practices have disincentivized Democratic campaigns from joining the program due to the increased chance of unsubscribes. Further, Google has created a loophole in the program allowing them to change the rules whenever it’s convenient to them, requiring participants to adhere and comply with no exception.
Let me be clear: Google’s pilot program is the wrong approach. We should have the expectation that if a voter signs up for a Republican campaign’s email, they should receive those emails in their inbox.
I know political bias in Silicon Valley better than most; as someone who was branded a “terrorist” by an engineer at Google and whose pro-life campaign video was removed by Twitter for being “inflammatory,” I’ve learned when to laugh it off and when to stand my ground. This is a case of the latter.
Email is the norm for how we conduct business, stay in touch with friends and family, learn about sales from our favorite retailers, and receive updates from political campaigns and organizations. Millions of Americans have signed up to receive emails from political candidates through campaign websites, petitions, surveys, or events, signaling their interest in receiving updates and information from the campaign trail.
But this is unfortunately not how it’s been playing out. Though email communications have been normalized on campaigns for several election cycles and email use continues to grow globally, the disparity between Democratic and Republican email inboxing has reached a breaking point this year. Google, the most dominant email provider, has been a particularly bad actor. Unfairly gatekeeping inboxes and censoring the voices of hundreds of conservative candidates, committees, and causes by sending their emails to spam or, worse, failing to deliver messages. A recent study by North Carolina State University found that nearly 80 percent of emails sent by conservatives ended up in spam folders.
Meanwhile, the Democrats had a banner year in 2020, with the Democratic National Committee flaunting best practices and recommendations by emailing a list of dormant email addresses, and instead of triggering spam filters, reactivating 875,000 supporters. In a Substack post written a month after the 2020 election, the DNC Mobilization Team bragged they “sent every single emailable inactive at least two emails and reactivated millions of supporters — who accounted for 16% of our online fundraising revenue in the last quarter of the election.” These levels of engagement and activity are unheard of.
It’s clear that the liberal elites in Silicon Valley are once again placing their thumb on the scale, manipulating communications that could lead to consequential outcomes. When a conservative supporter goes to a Republican website to sign up to receive emails, we should be confident that they will get the emails they signed up to receive. But even after consultation with top email specialists to achieve and execute best practices, Republicans still cannot guarantee that to be the case. This is shameful and wrong.
It’s absurd, isn’t it, that in 2022, Big Tech elites have made the practice of delivering an email from point A to point B so complicated and polarized?
Conservatives are not asking for the ability to send unsolicited emails in an unchecked manner. We believe in the protections used to defend consumers against malicious attacks, bad actors, and unwanted communications. We are simply asking that Google treat Republican emails the same as those of our Democratic counterparts, and to make transparent the rules used to place emails in inboxes.
When I ran for Senate, I vowed to the people of Tennessee that I would never back down from a fight. I never thought one of those fights would be about something as simple as email, but this just demonstrates how out of control Silicon Valley and the liberal elites are and why this fight is more important than ever. If email is under attack now, what’s next?