Topic: Media Research Center
For months, the Media Research Center has misrepresented a study in order to advance its anti-"Big Tech" narrative. Autumn Johnson tried to summarize it in an April 5 post:
Research from N.C. State University indicated that Google’s anti-spam algorithm overwhelmingly labeled emails from right-wing candidates as “spam.” The paper, titled A Peek into the Political Biases in Email Spam Filtering Algorithms During US Election 2020, said Google was biased against the Right, while Microsoft’s Outlook and Yahoo leaned right:
Note that Johnson wouldn't say that Outlook and Yahoo were "biased" against left-leaning candidates, since only conservatives faces "bias" in the MRC's world; only Gmail is "biased." The then proceeded to downplay the bias of Outhook and Yahoo to obsess over Gmail: "Gmail is the most popular email provider in the United States, and users are required to create an account to use the company’s spreadsheet and word document program. Users also need an account to use Google’s photo and document storage drives."
But Johnson also hid one other important related result from the study: When a user does things like read emails, mark them as spam or move them from the spam folder to the inbox, the mail programs learn and the biases largely disappear -- even more so for Gmail than for Outlook or Yahoo.
But who cares about facts when there's a narrative to advance? Brian Bradley embraced it in an April 29 post:
Three powerhouse conservative political groups are pushing the Federal Election Commission to look into alleged Google email censorship.
The Republican National Committee (RNC), National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), and National Republican Senate Committee (NRSC) filed a joint complaint with the FEC. The groups are asking the FEC to investigate findings of a March-released North Carolina State University (NC State) detailing Google’s alleged left-leaning bias.
Among other things, the study found Gmail marked 59.3 percent more emails from right-leaning candidates as spam compared to left-leaning candidates.
MRC President and founder Brent Bozell said the study confirms that Big Tech is meddling with the American democratic process.
"Concrete proof Google is interfering with elections," Bozell tweeted about the NC State study Friday afternoon. "The FEC must act immediately."
Bradley buried how other mail services were biased against left-leaning candidates, and completely censored the fact that user preferences pretty much eliminate the bias. Bradly pushed the right-wing narrative again in a May 22 post:
Months ahead of the 2022 midterm elections, Google leadership reportedly ignored GOP senators’ legitimate questions about Gmail’s apparent suppression of conservative political candidates’ emails.
“Google deflected, refused to provide any data, repeatedly refused to answer direct questions,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) told MRC Free Speech America after a meeting Wednesday between GOP senators and Google brass.
Bradley then lashed out at politico for reporting the other side of the story, falsely portraying balanced reporting as "playing defense":
Google Chief Legal Officer Kent Walker was among the Google executives who attended, and claimed there’s no bias in how the tech giant deals with spam, according to Politico.
In the piece, tech lobbying and influence reporter Emily Birnbaum and Senate reporter Marianne LeVine tone-deafly wrote that “researchers” have found “no evidence” that tech platforms “disproportionately take action against content from conservatives.” The reporters also wrongly conflated “social media platforms” with Google and Gmail, which are a multiservice tech platform and email service, respectively.
Politico played defense for the powerful Facebook and Google, noting they denied conservative politicians’ allegations that Big Tech companies “routinely stifle free speech.” The story also used extremist language to characterize right-wing lawmakers, calling their efforts part of a “conservative crusade” against major tech companies.
By contrast, Bradley censored the fact that the found user preferences eliminated the bias and all mention of other mail services "biased" against liberals.
Alexander Hall followed this with a May 24 post parroting Republican Sen. Marco Rubio parroting the narrative. Bradley returned on May 26 to whine that the Wshington Post called out right-wingers' dishonesty in promoting the study:
Just days after Politico defended leftist Google from allegations of election interference, The Washington Post attempted to whitewash the results of a university study finding considerable left-leaning bias in Gmail’s spam-filtering algorithm.
In The Post’s piece, Post tech reporter Cristiano Lima, with the assistance of Post tech policy researcherAaron Schaffer, wrote that congressional Republicans “omitted or downplayed biases against Democrats in Outlook and Yahoo Mail.”
But it’s a bit curious how GOP politicians could downplay the study’s findings, given that it showed much lesser bias in favor of right-wing candidates by Outlook and Yahoo than it showed in favor of left-wing candidates by Gmail.
Bradley omitted the fact that the Post article also quoted a study co-author pointing out how right-wingers like the MRC have misrepresented the study's results:
“Our study does not make any such conclusion,” Muhammad Shahzad, one of its lead authors, said of Daines’s claim in the group’s first media interview on the topic.
Shahzad, an associate professor in computer science, said while the paper “demonstrates that there is a bias” under certain circumstances across services, it “has nothing in it that demonstrates that someone is deliberately trying to turn the elections.”
[...]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.
Brtadley then tried to reframe things to keep his narrative alive, as if posturing Republican congressmen were more credible than the guy who actually co-wrote the study:
But the core concerns expressed by GOP lawmakers and aides stem from the finding that Gmail’s spam filter skewed against GOP candidates at all, and more so than Outlook’s and Yahoo’s spam filters disadvantaged Democratic Party candidates. Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) laid this out in a recent letter to Google CEO Sundar Pichai, demanding he answer, “Why, in Google’s view, is Gmail’s filtering algorithm bias so much more pronounced than Outlook and Yahoo’s bias?”
The NC State study plainly stated that Google’s, Outlook’s and Microsoft’s filtering biases could have an “unignorable impact” on election outcomes, and the study included no pretense of accusing Gmail of “deliberately” trying to influence elections.
It’s unclear whether The Post wants you to know that based on its reporting.
It's quite clear that Bradley does not want you to know that the study is much less clear-cut than his narrative has indicated. Indeed, he returned to narrative-advancing hype in a June 15 post touting how "Twenty-seven Senate Republicans led by Sen. John Thune (R-SD) on Wednesday introduced legislation that would ban email providers from using algorithms that mark certain political campaign emails as spam." He againhyped Gmail but buried the anti-liberal bias of other mail operations.
Bradley did the same thing in a June 22 post hyping how "Eight House Republicans on Tuesday joined their Senate counterparts in proposing legislation aimed at curbing left-wing political bias in email services’ spam filters." This time, he completely censored the anti-liberal bias of other services and didn't mention that user preferences eliminate the bias. Bradley was even firmer into GOP stenography territory in a July 5 post:
Republican senators are calling on Google to take quicker action after the company recently asked the Federal Election Commission to approve a pilot program to address concerns that Gmail’s spam algorithm disproportionately affects GOP electioneering campaigns.
Google’s filing with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) claims emails from participating campaigns won’t be “subject to regular spam detection algorithms.” But Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT) flagged the FEC’s approval timeline as one of several concerns associated with the pilot, which comes at a critical time as GOP and Democratic campaigns briskly move forward just four months ahead of the 2022 midterm elections.
Yet again, Bradley censored anti-liberal bias at other services and that user preferences eliminates it. No need to let the facts get in the way of a good narrative, right, Brian?