The lawsuit comes amid a flurry of political concerns about Big Tech’s dominance.
Tulsi Gabbard, one of the many Democratic presidential hopefuls, is suing Google for at least $50 million claiming “serious and continuing violations of Tulsi’s right to free speech” because of Google’s suspension of the Gabbard campaign’s advertising account during the first Democratic presidential debate.
Gabbard filed a federal lawsuit against the company today, claiming that it suspended her campaign’s advertising account for six hours following the first Democratic debate. Doing so, the lawsuit reportedly states, infringed on Gabbard’s free speech.
TULSI2020: In the hours following the 1st debate, while millions of Americans searched for info about Tulsi, Google suspended her search ad account w/o explanation. It is vital to our democracy that big tech companies can’t affect the outcome of elections https://t.co/n7Y7y2dQZ9
— Tulsi Gabbard (@TulsiGabbard) July 25, 2019
According to The New York Times, after the first debate, Gabbard was briefly the most searched-for candidate on Google. Purchasing ads would have helped the campaign get its website at the top of the search results, Tulsi Now Inc. said. The campaign team also believes its emails were being placed in Gmail spam folders at “a disproportionately high rate” compared to other Democratic contenders.
The campaign asks for an immediate court injunction to stop further meddling from Google and payment of financial damages.
According to the lawsuit, filed by lawyers representing Gabbard’s campaign Tulsi Now Inc., Google suspended the Gabbard campaign’s advertising account for several hours during the first Democratic debate, when Gabbard was briefly the most-searched candidate on Google.
The suit comes as lawmakers and politicians from both sides of the aisle increase scrutiny of Big Tech. This week, the U.S. Department of Justice publicly announced it is probing large tech companies. Google’s search business has been highly scrutinized by politicians and industry competitors alike.
A Google spokesperson said in a statement that Gabbard’s account suspension was a result of the company’s automated systems.
“We have automated systems that flag unusual activity on all advertiser accounts — including large spending changes — in order to prevent fraud and protect our customers,” the Google spokesperson said in a statement to CNBC. “In this case, our system triggered a suspension and the account was reinstated shortly thereafter. We are proud to offer ad products that help campaigns connect directly with voters, and we do so without bias toward any party or political ideology.”
“Google’s discriminatory actions against my campaign are reflective of how dangerous their complete dominance over internet search is, and how the increasing dominance of big tech companies over our public discourse threatens our core American values,” Gabbard said in a blog post Thursday.
“This is a threat to free speech, fair elections and to our democracy, and I intend to fight back on behalf of all Americans,” Gabbard added.
Tulsi Gabbard was relatively unknown before the first Democratic debate, but one of the issues she has gained bipartisan support for is her suspicion of big tech. According to the lawsuit, she sides with Senator Elizabeth Warren in the call for large tech companies to be broken up — Warren recently had an ad criticizing Facebook removed and then restored by the platform. While this lawsuit may not go anywhere, it is believed to be the first time a presidential candidate has sued a major tech firm. It’s a bit surprising that it’s coming from a Democratic candidate, given that most of the recent censorship complaints and bias accusations have come from Republicans.