Sen. Hawley demands answers from Google after study shows stark ‘political biases’

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Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., sent a letter to Google CEO Sundar Pichai on Wednesday demanding answers in response to a recent study that found the tech giant’s email spam filtering algorithms exhibited political bias in 2020.

“New research reveals that your company makes it much harder for Republicans to reach their supporters even while your company makes it very easy for Democrats to reach theirs,” Hawley said, adding that the internet plays a crucial role for political campaigns to reach their voters. 

Hawley went on to reference a study published last week by North Carolina State University’s Department of Computer Science titled, “A Peek into the Political Biases in Email Spam Filtering Algorithms During US Election 2020.”

For the extensive study, which took place from July 1, 2020 to Nov. 30, 2020, researchers created 102 email accounts on Gmail, Outlook, and Yahoo, and subscribed to two presidential candidates, 78 Senate candidates, and 156 House candidates.

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Sen. Hawley demands answers from Google after study shows stark 'political biases'

Google CEO Sundar Pichai during the "Central and Eastern Europe Innovation Roundtable" at Lazienki Palace in Warsaw, Poland on Jan. 21, 2019.
(Mateusz Wlodarczyk/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

The study reported that “all [spam filtering algorithms] exhibited political biases in the months leading up to the 2020 U.S. elections,” but Google’s Gmail exhibited substantially worse bias by sending emails from Republican candidates to spam.

“We further observe that Gmail marks a significantly higher percentage (67.6%) of emails from the right as spam compared to the emails from left (just 8.2%)” researchers wrote. “Gmail marked 59.3% more emails from the right candidates as spam compared to the left candidates.” 

Sen. Hawley demands answers from Google after study shows stark 'political biases'

Sen. Josh Hawley, (R-MO), speaks during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on June 9, 2020.
(Andrew Harnik/Pool via REUTERS)

The study further observed that the percentage of emails Gmail marked as spam from right-wing candidates increased as Election Day approached, while the percentage of emails marked as spam from the left-wing candidates remained about the same.

A spokesperson for Google dismissed the North Carolina study’s findings.

“Political affiliation has absolutely no bearing on mail classifications in Gmail, and we’ve debunked this suggestion, which has surfaced periodically from across the political spectrum, for many years,” the spokesperson told Fox News Digital. “Mail classifications in Gmail automatically adjust to match Gmail users’ preferences and actions. Gmail users can move messages to spam, or to any other category. Gmail automatically adjusts the classifications of particular emails according to these user actions.”

Sen. Hawley demands answers from Google after study shows stark 'political biases'

Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., speaks during a confirmation hearing for Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill on Oct. 12, 2020, in Washington, D.C.
(Susan Walsh/Getty Images)

“I am particularly alarmed by this pattern because political dice-loading is nothing new for your company,” wrote Hawley, citing Google’s threat to remove conservative website The Federalist from its ad platform because of the content of its comments section.

Hawley also pointed out how YouTube, which is owned by Google, routinely deplatforms and demonetizes conservatives, and noted how a 2019 Wall Street Journal investigation found Google tinkers with its algorithms and autocomplete suggestions to disfavor some viewpoints.

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Urging Google to “take immediate corrective action in response to these findings,” Hawley asked Pichai specifically to explain the company’s alleged pattern of bias, as well as how researchers could have concluded that user behavior was not the driving factor of spam filtering, as Google claims.

He also demanded to know why Google’s filtering algorithm is more pronounced than other email apps, why Republicans were filtered more as Election Day approached, and what steps Google is taking to review its algorithms for bias.

Fox News’ Brian Flood contributed to this report.

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