Gabbard Campaign Sues Google Over Suspending Ads, Suppressing Free Speech

September 15, 2019 Updated: September 15, 2019

Search engine giant Google is denying wrongdoing after being sued for $50 million for allegedly undermining Democratic presidential candidate Rep. Tulsi Gabbard’s (D-Hawaii) campaign by suspending its online advertising after Gabbard’s attention-grabbing performance in the first candidates’ debate June 26.

“We filed a lawsuit against Google because no tech monopoly or any other entity should have the undue influence to suppress freedom of speech and unfairly impact elections. If Google can do it to me, they can do it to you,” Gabbard wrote on Twitter on Sept. 10.

The lawsuit comes as social media providers and popular websites such as Google, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube have come under increasing attack for viewpoint-based discrimination against users—particularly, conservatives. But this is thought to be the first lawsuit filed by a presidential candidate against a major technology company. Gabbard and presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) have said they want big technology concerns such as Google, Facebook, and Amazon to be broken up.

The lawsuit also comes after President Donald Trump held a social media summit at the White House on July 11, to meet with conservatives upset about their views being censored on social media. Previously, he wrote in a tweet: “Google & others are suppressing voices of Conservatives and hiding information and news that is good. They are controlling what we can & cannot see. This is a very serious situation-will be addressed!”

Earlier this month, Google was ordered to pay a record $170 million to settle allegations by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission that its YouTube video-sharing service illegally collected personal information from children without their parents’ consent. The FTC also fined Facebook a record $5 billion in July for misleading users about personal data privacy policies. The FTC and several states have also initiated antitrust investigations into Facebook’s business practices.

Gabbard’s lawsuit states that Google’s search platform, “one of the largest forums for political speech in the entire world … plays favorites, with no warning, no transparency—and no accountability (until now).”

After the June debate in Miami, Gabbard was the most-searched candidate on Google and her campaign wanted to capitalize on the surge of interest in the 38-year-old Hawaii congresswoman. The campaign wanted to purchase ads that would have propelled its website to the top of search results for her name.

But Google inexplicably disabled the campaign’s advertising account for six hours on June 27 and June 28, hindering voter outreach and fundraising efforts, according to the campaign, which is known by the legal name of Tulsi Now Inc. The campaign also claims its emails were sent to spam folders on Google’s email platform, Gmail, at “a disproportionately high rate” compared to emails from Gabbard’s fellow candidates.

“Google’s arbitrary and capricious treatment of Gabbard’s campaign should raise concerns for policymakers everywhere about the company’s ability to use its dominance to impact political discourse, in a way that interferes with the upcoming 2020 presidential election,” the legal complaint states.

A Google spokesperson told The Epoch Times the company didn’t intend to discriminate against Gabbard.

“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. 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,” the spokesperson said.

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles. The judge assigned to the case is Stephen V. Wilson, who was appointed in 1985 by then-President Ronald Reagan.

The campaign wants a minimum of $50 million in damages from Google, along with an injunction requiring Google to “cease and desist capriciously restricting or otherwise censoring” its advertising account, and from “censoring or restricting the Campaign’s speech based on Google’s unfettered discretion, or the use or application of arbitrary, capricious, vague, unspecified, or subjective criteria guidelines.”

“Unless the court issues an appropriate injunction,” the legal complaint states, “Google’s illegal and unconstitutional behavior will continue, harming both the Campaign and the general public, which has an overwhelming interest in a fair, unmanipulated 2020 United States Presidential Election cycle.”