Microprocessing

Your Email Spam Filter Is More Aggressive Than You Realize

Many people complain that their messages are suddenly getting caught. Here’s what’s going on.

Angela Lashbrook
OneZero
Published in
7 min readFeb 7, 2020
Photo by Tayler Smith. Prop Styling by Caroline Dorn

AsAs a freelance writer who conducts many interviews with academics and other experts, I send a lot of cold emails. This takes a fair amount of time and effort, particularly since only about 20% of the people I reach out to ever write back.

That response rate used to be a bit higher, but a few months ago, I got a disappointing message in my own inbox from an expert: My first email, she said, had gone to her university email spam folder. Had I gained some kind of reputation as a horrible writer? Did everyone hate me? Had I been put on the universal academic blacklist for journalists who are total idiots?

Thankfully, no. Instead, for some unknown reason, various email servers had been funneling my messages into people’s spam folders. Since her initial message, the problem has only grown: Not only have I been personally and professionally screwed by spam filters, but I’ve found important, timely messages from other people hidden away in my own spam folder.

I set out on a mission to figure out what the hell was going on and how to fix it. It was, unfortunately, nearly impossible.

According to the cybersecurity company Trustwave, as of 2018, the percentage of inbound email that is spam dropped to 39% — a relatively steady decrease from its high of 85% in 2008. Spam itself, however, seems to be getting more dangerous, as a full 26% of it is infected with malware. To protect users, spam filters have gotten more strict — but are catching a lot of legitimate emails in the process.

“I’ve noticed that my work emails have been going to spam quite often lately — even those addressed to authors I’m promoting,” says Allison Paller, a book publicist in New York. She isn’t sure if it’s because of the marketing and publicity language she uses, or something else entirely. She’d suspected it was happening for awhile, because people kept requesting information from her that she had already sent. But she only confirmed her hunch when it interfered with her promotion of an author.

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Angela Lashbrook
OneZero

I’m a columnist for OneZero, where I write about the intersection of health & tech. Also seen at Elemental, The Atlantic, VICE, and Vox. Brooklyn, NY.