Ridiculous Republican Senators Introduce Law To Say Political Emails Can’t Be Filtered As Spam
from the the-party-of-more-spam-for-everyone dept
The latest in stupid, unconstitutional, performative, nonsense legislation from Republicans comes from Senator John Thune, and it would break your email spam filters. It’s called the “Political Bias in Algorithm Sorting Emails Act of 2022” and it’s possibly even dumber than it sounds.
First, this is all based on a bogus, cooked up, deliberately misinterpreted-by-people-who-know-better controversy. We wrote about this a couple months ago. Researchers at North Carolina State University released a preprint of a study about email spam filtering during the 2020 election. They set up a variety of email accounts, and signed up for political mailings. The study did find that Gmail’s spam filter was more likely to flag Republican political mailings as spam, but found the opposite was true of Yahoo Mail and Microsoft Outlook, which flagged more Democratic politicians’ emails as spam than Republicans.
Of course, Democrats didn’t freak out about this. Only Republicans did, egged on by a disingenuous political trickster, who tried to make this into a big deal, and was aided by Fox News and other disingenuous entities, who turned it into a thing — even to the point of some Republicans filing a laughable complaint with the Federal Election Committee trying to argue that Google was giving an unfair advantage to Democrats.
The authors of the original study, for what it’s worth, appear to be horrified about how their study is being abused by political hacks.
“Gmail isn’t biased like the way it’s being portrayed,” [study author Muhammad Shahzad] said. “I’m not advocating for Gmail or anything. I’m just stating that when we take the observation out of a study, you should take all of the observations, not just cherry-pick a few and then try to use them.”
Furthermore, Shahzad noted that the part of the study being pointed out only applied to Gmail accounts where users did not express their own preferences. Once users added in their own preferences, the impact for Gmail effectively disappeared:
Shahzad said while the spam filters demonstrated political biases in their “default behavior” with newly created accounts, the trend shifted dramatically once they simulated having users put in their preferences by marking some messages as spam and others as not.
“What we saw was after they were being used, the biases in Gmail almost disappeared, but in Outlook and Yahoo they did not,” he said.
In other words, there’s pretty strong evidence here that there’s nothing nefarious going on. Because, seriously, who would actually program a spam filter to try to hide one party’s political spam? The reason so much goes to spam is because many users treat the non-stop bombardment by political campaigns as spam. Because it’s often hellishly spammy.
Anyway, this bill would now effectively require email providers to whitelist all political campaigns from spam filters, unless each user directly calls the emails spam:
In General–It shall be unlawful for an operator of an email service to use a filtering algorithm to apply a label to an email sent to an email account from a political campaign unless the owner or user of the account took action to apply such a label.
The bill would also create a privacy nightmare, in that it requires email providers to release transparency reports detailing how many political campaign emails were flagged as spam. But that would require the email services snoop on your emails. The transparency report would also require the email providers to designate how many Democratic campaign emails were filtered as spam, and how many Republican campaign emails were filtered as spam. So, apparently third parties are shit out of luck.
Even worse, the bill would require any email provider to respond to frequent demands from political campaigns about how often their emails were flagged as spam.
This is performative, unconstitutional nonsense on multiple levels. Even more hilarious, in announcing the bill, Senator John Thune, gave a talk about how the Republican’s “vision” for governing was contrasted with the Democrats, because the GOP doesn’t want “more big government” but rather “allowing free markets to work” and having “a light regulatory touch”… and then uses that as the backdrop to introducing this intrusive, big government bill that would allow the government to block the free market of spam filters, in order to give politicians special rights to avoid your spam filter, and to force businesses to have to file tons of busywork reports documenting their spam filters.
In short, what the Republicans are actually standing for here is “more spam for everyone” and not allowing spam filters to work properly.
Senator, get your dirty corrupt hands off my spam filter.