Gmail has been accused of dumping emails referring to racial justice in its promotions tab. Some have even ended up in spam, according to an analysis published on Thursday by The Markup.
For instance, 86% of the emails using the phrase Movement for Black Lives went to promotions, and 14% went to spam. None appeared in the primary area, rendering them less visible to recipients.
And of 50 emails mentioning Black Lives Matter, only 10% went to the primary area, and 6% went to spam. The remainder were routed to promotions.
Overall, the report states that seven out of 10 racial justice emails received since the George Floyd killing ended up in the promotions area.
Seasoned email pros have to wonder whether this is a case of intentional discrimination or the result of algorithms doing what they normally do with mass emails.
These nonprofit email lists may contain names of people who haven’t recently opened or engaged.
Still, at a time when the country is demanding racial justice and an end of wanton killings of African-Americans, this report is dismaying. What if there was some hidden intent at play?
The Markup analyzed hundreds of emails sent to a test Gmail account by more than 200 candidates and organizations across the political spectrum.
Here are some of the phrases used in emails and the treatment they received in Gmail:
- Of 54 mails mentioning racial injustice, 81% went to promotions, 10% to primary and 15% to spam.
- Similarly, of 29 emails referencing Ahmaud Arbery, 79% went to promotions, 14% to spam and 10% to primary.
- And of 67 messages that named Breonna Taylor, only 10% made it to Primary, while 78% hit Promotions and 12% Spam.
- In contrast, among 22% of the 161 emails about George Floyd made it to Primary, 71% to Promotions and 12% to spam.
This is just a guess, but that higher rate of arrival in Primary may be due to the fact that many recipients had just opted in, or that there was a high rate of engagement in general.
Of all racial justice phrases, 68% were destined for promotions, 21% for primary and 1'% for spam.
And of political and advocacy emails, 68% hit promotions, 21% primary and 11% spam.
Also viewed as marketing emails was one from the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund asking for donations in honor of Juneteenth. Another was an email from MoveOn.org that featured the subject line “Celebrate Juneteenth by declaring that #BlackLivesMatter.”
Even a Planned Parenthood email with the subject line “What you can do right now for Black lives,” was deemed a marketing message.
Gmail declined to comment to The Markup. But it pointed to a response it made in February, when The Markup reported roughly half of all political emails went to promotions.
At that time, Google spokesperson Brooks Hocog commented that emails are classified based on user input and to a lesser extent machine learning.
“Types of email that might make it into the Promotions tab include calls-to-action, marketing newsletters and offers or coupons,” Hocog said, according to The Markup. “This approach applies to all emails that fit the promotion classification, regardless of industry, affiliation, etc.”
Gmail is the biggest email service provider, as the report notes. But we wish The Markup had also examined Outlook and Yahoo in order to get an industrywide perspective on this problem.
And we would hope that tech companies will move in to help nonprofit mailers get into the right folder.
This report qualifies as anecdotal information. But as with the larger issues it mentions, you can’t ignore it. These fund-raising messages need to be read now.