The path that this message took from my email marketing tool to your inbox is complex and based on numerous factors. One of those is how effective my messages are at avoiding the spam filter.
I once shared a piece that simply explained how unwanted solicitations worked, and the message naturally failed to pass through this all-important filter to readers.
So, it’s with that in mind that I read with great interest about the fact that the Republican Party has an email deliverability problem. The party, over the years, has used all variety of aggressive tactics to get people to donate to its causes. And it seems like it just kind of went nuts based on that information. (To be fair, the other guys are also fairly aggressive: I signed up for one Barack Obama fundraising list twelve years ago, just to see what he was doing, and now I get fundraising emails from seemingly every left-leaning political candidate under the sun, despite the fact I’ve never donated once because, as a journalist, I don’t donate.)
Both political parties heavily rely on these systems to get donations—particularly of the small, targeted, individual kind—to fund political campaigns. However, there’s evidence that the GOP is having issues raising money using this method—leading to lower funds at a time it seems like the political climate may favor its cause.
As a result, the GOP is looking for someone to blame here. Who does the GOP blame for this, of course? Google.
“It’s time to hold Big Tech accountable for its shameless partisan censorship,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) said in a press release when he introduced the Political Bias in Algorithm Sorting (BIAS) Emails Act with Sen. John Thune (R-SD) in June.
That’s right, politicians have gone so far as to introduce prospective bills that would ban services from marking political emails as spam—which seems like a great way to upset your donors!
To be fair, Google does change things quite often in terms of how people get information in its systems (just ask anyone who uses Google AMP), but usually, those things affect everyone, with no political bias at play. One of those things is security, and it periodically raises its standards for websites and domains to encourage them to raise their standards.
And it later emerged, as The Washington Post reported last week, that Rubio’s email server was misconfigured, which is why his emails were going to the spam folder:
The most forceful rebuke, attendees said, came from Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who claimed that not a single email from one of his addresses was reaching inboxes. The reason, it was later determined, was that a vendor had not enabled an authentication tool that keeps messages from being marked as spam, according to people briefed on the discussions. Rubio campaign manager Mark Morgan said the problem also required Google to perform a reset on its end. [Google spokesman José] Castañeda said such resets are standard practice once senders adhere to best practices.
In one sense, I can totally understand if you’ve invested a whole bunch of money into something and you’re seeing horrible results that you might want to figure out a way to get those numbers to a better spot. In another, blaming political bias for something that appears to actually point to a technical gap of some kind is bad form. You are raising millions of dollars—you can’t invest a small chunk of that into an effective technology team?
As TechDirt noted, the problem here may not even be with Google or even the candidates, but with the firms they use to distribute marketing messages—with one in particular, Targeted Victory, failing to hit the target.
“You don’t normally have your campaign spam vendor showing up to a policy lunch,” TechDirt’s Mike Masnick wrote. “Unless your campaign spam vendor is so shit at their job, that they have to go and blame Google rather than admit that their spammy fund raising tactics are failing because more and more people are sick and tired of the spam.”
The GOP is treading a dangerous line by screwing with email deliverability. Don’t upset the email gods.
Correction: This piece originally misstated John Thune’s political party. Sorry about that.
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