Tensions boil over during 'unusually tense' meeting between GOP senators and Google exec
Ted Cruz speaks to guests at the Nebraska Steak Fry in 2021. (Right Cheer/Flickr)

On Thursday, POLITICO reported that things got heated at a meeting between a policy committee of Republican senators and a Google executive, in an argument over Gmail's algorithm regarding political emails.

"The Senate Republican Steering Committee, the policy arm of the Senate GOP, had invited Google’s chief legal officer, Kent Walker, to discuss a recent study that found the company has disproportionately filtered Republican lawmakers’ emails into hidden spam folders compared to emails from Democratic lawmakers. Walker said there is no bias in how Google deals with spam," reported Emily Birnbaum and Marianne Levine. "The group lunch grew unusually tense, according to three people familiar with the meeting, granted anonymity to discuss private matters."

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) alleged of the meeting, “The lunch was spirited. Google deflected, refused to provide any data, repeatedly refused to answer direct questions.”

"The researchers behind the North Carolina State University study have denied that Google’s filtering is related to political discrimination, concluding it has more to do with factors like past user behavior," noted the report. "Walker reiterated to senators that filtering bias is unrelated to political affiliation and pointed out that the North Carolina State researchers said the discrepancies likely have to do with Gmail’s weighing of 'past user behavior,' meaning Gmail marks emails as spam based on how users have marked emails before. The same study showed that Outlook and Yahoo disproportionately flagged Democrats’ emails as spam."

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The confrontation is part of an ongoing claim on the right that tech platforms are being used to target and silence conservative opinions. This idea, circulated for years, is baseless and not supported by evidence — in fact, studies show Republicans have benefitted greatly from the way many social networks boost content, and Facebook even axed a planned algorithm update to reduce fake news out of fear it would reduce traffic to right-wing sites.

Nonetheless, this controversy has fueled bipartisan momentum for antitrust legislation to rein in the power of tech companies, with one major bill to do so passing the Senate Judiciary Committee in January.