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.

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Comments on “Ridiculous Republican Senators Introduce Law To Say Political Emails Can’t Be Filtered As Spam”

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133 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

The solution is simple : quit using email.

Face it — free electronic communications are a failure. The government is going to force spam emails, robocalls and texts onto you — or at least do nothing to stop them as there is too much money to be made. It’s nearing the time to go back to dead trees.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
James Burkhardt (profile) says:

Re: RE: Quit using email

Wut? One of the big ‘justifications’ for closing down the USPS is how spam is endemic in snail mail. Switching to dead trees doesn’t solve the issue, and it would likely increase it if somehow electronic communications were deprecated and people starting paying attention to letters again.

John85851 (profile) says:

Re: Re:

The thing with physical mail is that the sender has to pay for it. Sure, it might pop BLT be 10 or 25 cents per mailing, but those costs start to add up.
Spam email and robo calls effectively cost nothing, so there’s no reason not to use those methods.
Plus, I’m sure there are plenty of marketing people who think the best way to get their message across is by annoying people, either with flashing banner ads, multiple spam emails or multiple robo calls.

This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it.

This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Reminders for you:

  1. Twitter can’t censor people.
  2. No one is owed a platform or an audience.
  3. If someone got dinged by social media moderation, they most likely violated the rules.

With that in mind, I have three questions for you:

  1. For what speech/actions did Twitter somehow punish those two users you mentioned?
  2. How were they punished by Twitter?
  3. How did that punishment “censor” those users, in that they were denied their fundamental right to speak their mind instead of the privilege to speak on Twitter?

This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it.

Naughty Autie says:

Re: Re: Re:4

Twitter exists on the Internet, which is owned by the US Government, obviously. /s
To ignoramuses, ‘created by Department of Defense’ is exactly the same thing as ‘owned by US Government’. The facts they’re too obtuse to realise is that ‘based on ARPANet’ isn’t the same as actually being ARPANet, and that the Department of Defense released the Internet to the public that had funded its development long before shutting off ARPANet in 1989.

sumgai (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2

He’s the whack job for whom the term “Reality Distortion Field” was coined. In his case, he refined it to very high degree by the time of his self-determined demise.

Even though he was part of the “founding fathers” of personal computerdom, I don’t miss his passing. I have this thing about people who walk around pretending that their balls are bigger than Texas, but are wearing blinders the size of Alaska. Really gives me a case of the jaws.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re:

Some “enlightened” white people would write their own blocking software,etc.

Yes, it’s happened before, and they were ridiculed enough they stopped promoting it. Or had enough backlash that they would eventually stop doing it.

Meanwhile, Republicans seem to be going ham with the legislation and other bullshit, DESPITE tge ridicule and clearly UnConstitutional stuff they’ve done.

What does that say, Koby?

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

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

Republican messaging has always centered on one idea: a government big enough to tell everyone else what to do but small enough to never tell Republicans what to do.

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Koby (profile) says:

Re:

From the article itself:

“Twitter said it wasn’t clear why its Home timeline produced these results and indicated that it may now need to change its algorithm.”

Translation: right wingers wrote more meaningful stuff that people organically care about, such that the twitter overlords feel the need to manually bias the algorithm to produce artificial results.

This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it.

Koby (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Yes or no, Koby: If the algorithm favored liberal/progressive users instead of conservative users, would you have offered up the same “translation”?

It depends. I’d like to see the algorithm. That’s often what folks have been asking for. Since the overlords consistently freak out whenever we ask to take a peek, it’s similar to when police cover up their body cam footage — there’s probably some corruption involved.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

It depends.

A lot of the comments you’ve made in your time here have been about trashing liberals/progressives and their causes, opinions, and political stances. You’ve routinely come off as someone who uses Fox News and Breitbart as your only source of news. If Gmail artificially biased its spam algorithm in favor of liberals/progressives, you would never say “left-wingers wrote more meaningful stuff that people organically care about, such that the twitter overlords feel the need to manually bias the algorithm to produce artificial results”⁠—that, I can all but guarantee.

So no, “it” doesn’t “depend” on shit. You’d never say anything even remotely flattering to liberals. Context is irrelevant when you’ve made your feelings clear enough in the past.

Naughty Autie says:

Re: Re: Re:4

The ‘C’ was for ‘completed’, actually. ‘F’ is for ‘fixed’ or ‘corrected’. Also, it would have scanned a lot better if the comment form hadn’t removed the second asterisk. I’m tired of this markdown experiment disguising my intent and npw making me look malicious. I’m going back to ‘plain text’.

Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:5

The ‘C’ was for ‘completed’, actually. ‘F’ is for ‘fixed’ or ‘corrected’.

Either way: I said what I said, and I don’t need someone coming in behind me to imply that my thoughts were incomplete or wrong⁠—regardless of their intent. Please stop “correcting”, “fixing”, or “completing” my posts; you’re free to do it to others, but I’m asking you to leave my comments alone.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

I’d like to see the algorithm.

And what, pray tell are you going to fucking do with it? Just stare at it cluelessly and say ‘yup, there’s the bias, see?’

Fact of the matter is none of you idiots are likely qualified to make any interpretation of it one way or another. Just like Mikey Lindell’s ‘cyber symposium’ that illustrated exactly how ‘technical’ you morons really are.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Thad (profile) says:

Re:

I can’t wait to see Democrats flood everyone’s inbox multiple times a day and see how long Republican support for this lasts…

You kidding me? It won’t even be a speed bump; they’ll have an excuse all ready for why Democratic e-mails are completely different and it’s okay to mark them as spam.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

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.

Not only is this an onerous waste of time and resources, it’s another domain for the consulting industry to exploit for profit and getting around filters by complaining or gaming.

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Anonymous Coward says:

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.

And when you consider that Gmail has close to twice as many email users as Yahoo and Microsoft put together, that bit of whataboutism starts to look a little less serious.

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.

Typical. Researchers discover a thing, publish information on it, then get all horrified when people notice it has implications they don’t personally approve of.

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re:

And when you consider that Gmail has close to twice as many email users as Yahoo and Microsoft put together, that bit of whataboutism starts to look a little less serious.

Sounds like Yahoo and Outlook would be better email choices for idiots who love their conservative spam, no?

Why don’t you people vote with your data? Seems kinda fucking stupid to use a service from a company you hate.

Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Why don’t you people vote with your data?

That would require conservatives to do the work of changing over their service provider and updating contacts with the new email and setting up everything on their new service. Making other people do the work of changing a service for the sake of kowtowing to conservative tastes is far easier for conservatives.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

It would take work to be sure but I imagine a bigger factor is the enormous sense of self-entitlement that this article describes, where they think they have a right to be heard by an audience of their choosing and they know that if they move to their own platforms the only people around will be a much smaller group compose almost entirely of others like them.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

how would that protect my First Amendment right to say “no, I don’t want to see these emails in my inbox”?

It’s a bad law (proposal), but has nothing to do with that right. You could still say it. Your email provider may or may not be able to do anything based on you having said that, which is one thing that makes it a bad law (it depends on the meaning of “unless the owner or user of the account took action to apply such a label”; e.g., would a “filter political spam” checkbox count?).

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2

The right to free speech gives me the right to choose what speech I will ignore. A law that would force upon me the speech I want to ignore is a law that would violate my right.

How would it force you to read it?

If you see a subject line in your email you don’t want to read, you’re somehow prohibited from deleting it yourself?

How helpless are you?

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Naughty Autie says:

Re:

Actually, if an American blocks your emails, that’s them exercising their First Amendment right to not be forced to listen to you, not censorship. Censorship is when government forces people to accept political spam so that their inboxes become so full it blocks useful communication from others.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

The parent message didn’t say that spam filtering violates the first amendment, nor that it would constitute government censorship. It merely said that the intent behind the amendment suggests a course of action here. (I disagree, but am not going to claim they said something they didn’t.)

That One Guy (profile) says:

A market only free to do what they want it to

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.

‘Let the free market handle it, the government has no business telling companies what do to!’

‘The free market doesn’t like you, and companies are responding appropriately.’

‘Screw the free market then, time for the government to step in and start issuing orders!’

Gotta love the blatant hypocrisy and dishonesty of modern republicans. They want a small government when it comes to telling them what to do but are all for big government when they’re the ones issuing demands.

Lostinlodos (profile) says:

Truly funny

“Once users added in their own preferences, the impact for Gmail effectively disappeared

So yes, Google does default to canning Republicans. However, that can quickly be overridden by white listing the account or clicking the “not spam” link.
This is probably because of Google’s over-rising Democrat user base in this country. And it’s international user base being one of the larger ones. Clearly making the US republicans look like spam to the majority of users.

The bigger take-away of that report is why the other companies had such inferior in-trainable filters.

That said: I don’t know if this is necessarily a bad idea.
Government communication… including political/election should reach the recipients. If the receiver choose to blacklist that’s their choice. But that shouldn’t be done by some arbitrary ai automation.

However this bill should be paired with a requirement that campaigns use a single web/email address. To make sure choosing to blacklist actually works.

I know, again I don’t fit the average TD reader.
I don’t really care about the emails. Stop calling 12 times a day for an automated survey with no do not call/opt out options!
All parties! If I hung up on you at 8, 9, 10, noon…19, 20, 21…
Stop calling me!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re:

Correction: Gmail (as the service is actually called) does not default to canning Republicans. Gmail defaults to filtering the emails of addresses that send a high amount of emails to any single Gmail address. If one party does that and the other doesn’t, get which one is most likely to get canned? Now add in the data from Gmail users clicking the “spam” button on emails from Republican politicians, and you have the whole picture. Nice try, though, Republican shill.

Lostinlodos (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Republican shill

Lol, lmao.

The article itself says:

The study did find that Gmail’s spam filter was more likely to flag Republican political mailings as spam…

So how am I shilling?
It also states:

…Yahoo Mail and Microsoft Outlook, which flagged more Democratic politicians’ emails as spam …

Now let’s think of why that would be. I don’t know about yahoo, but Microsoft is primarily a business service. Outlook is used by most of the Ftn 500.
Google’s Gmail was initially an internal product. Used and trained from the beginning by staff. Then set as a private invite skunk works project. Before slowly being trialed as a semi-public invite beta.

Looking at how automation is trained tells a story, you know?

Oh, google/gmail. You’re only accurate looking at today. I was an internal invite user. At the time it was Google Mail. Having just switched from GoogleMail. At various times it was publicly and privately called Google Mail, GoogleMail, Mail, G-mail, G Mail, and Gmail.

What you may not know is just how strict use rules were and secrecy was at the time. When they decided to go semi-public, the list of things that could get you kicked off the platform, out of the test, was LONG. When this of us invited we’re given the chance to invite other complete outsiders, we did so choosing very carefully. As we were responsible for their actions as well as our own. Automation in spam filters came very early. And was initially trained by a very small mindset.so no, such a default doesn’t surprise me. At all.

Note I didn’t claim some nefarious political bias here! Just recognition of the general lean of the beginnings.
Shill? Lmfao.

Lostinlodos (profile) says:

Again, feel free to show I align with an concerns about bias by a private company and I’ll happily own it. The core difference between my view and theirs (Republicans). I see nothing wrong with this factor.
Actually, Microsoft not adapting to user input is fare more troublesome!

Personally I don’t believe anything should be flagged by anyone but the user. Spam should be determined by the individual alone.

Republican shill? You’ll be hard pressed to find any evidence of my supporting the Republican platform as a whole. Beyond defence/us-first where I generally agree and taxation, where I agree with the premise but not method? Feel free.

ball is in your court! Prove that idea
Or did you miss my non-partisan screaming about anyone who deletes?
If you delete you have censored. I hate any and all who think that’s a good plan.

I’m a shill for now one! More than anything I support and demand total complete and unrestricted expression. Free love. Open sex. A ban on public religion. And the right to use religious books to wipe my arse after a good shite. Find a single Republican that believes in that!
Shill, bollox! You’re an ignorant coward unwilling to register and stand by your thoughts.

Lostinlodos (profile) says:

Re:

I’m sorry, I realise you’re an insecure excuse of personhood. Too afraid to link any commentary to yourself.

I’m not without feelings and deeply feel for your ilk so insecure in your beliefs.

There’s not a regular user here ignorant to my cross-the-board-beliefs that would ever consider me a Republican.
A problem? Yes! Dryly apathetic? No doubt. Gun loving shArp-shooting nutter? Sure.
Republican? Not a chance!

I’m going to go eat dinner now.
Then Jack off to some Asian strippers dancing in thongs as they run their breasts against each other. Seeing as how my “friend” for the evening nearly got fired because she was caught with my face between her legs on the the bathroom counter, I’ve not done well tonight. $200 in cash made her job safe. Funny, everything has a price

What was that about republicans? If cash didn’t work o would have offered him the best blow job dixk sick of his life. Or more.

I don’t lack empathy when I’m involved.
I simply lack interest in others in general.

What was that you were saying?

The R party, partly at fault via Trump, is far too concerned in religion for me. Because I’ll eat your area as much as your cunt or cock.

Religious (read bullshite myth) slavery keeps me far away from the R party as a whole.

What a private company opts for is put to them.
Stop being a shite, and a shit.
Bias exists. More often by coincidence than intention.
Seriously, stop being one of those ignorant freaks and accept reality. You want to counter crap? Speak the truth!
Microsoft has a conservative bias.
Google has a liberal bias.

It just is.
Grow up!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re:

Spam should be determined by the individual alone.

And you inbox becomes unusable, as spammers use botnets and thousands of email addresses to flood everybodies inboxes.Indeed it may not be worth marking an email source as a spammer, because they will be using a different email address the next time they send you an email.

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