On Thursday, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii)’s campaign announced a $50 million lawsuit against Google, alleging that the Big Tech company violated Gabbard’s free speech by temporarily suspending her campaign’s Google ads account for six hours after the first Democratic debate last month.
“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 told The New York Times in a statement on the lawsuit. “This is a threat to free speech, fair elections and to our democracy, and I intend to fight back on behalf of all Americans.”
“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,” Gabbard tweeted. “Google controls 88% of internet search in the US — giving it control over our access to information. Google’s arbitrary suspension of the account of a presidential candidate should be of concern to all Americans.”
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
“They threaten our democracy and Tulsi will fight back on behalf of all Americans,” she concluded.
According to a statement from Gabbard’s campaign, Google suspended the campaign’s Google Ads account for six hours on the night of June 28 after the candidate performed well in the first debate. In fact, Gabbard was the most searched candidate on Google, yet the company blocked her campaign.
“And no matter what the motivation was for doing so, Google’s arbitrary and capricious decision to suspend Tulsi’s Google Ads account during a critical moment in our campaign should be of concern to all political candidates and in fact all Americans. Because if Google can do this to Tulsi, a combat veteran and four term Congresswoman who is running for the nation’s highest office, Google can do this to any candidate, from any party, running for any office in the United States,” the campaign declared.
Blocking her campaign from running ads in the crucial hours after the debate obstructed its ability to raise money and spread her message. According to the lawsuit, the campaign also believed its emails were being placed in Gmail spam folders at “a disproportionately high rate” when compared to the emails from other Democratic candidates.
The lawsuit is seeking $50 million in damages. Perhaps more important, however, is the second ask: an injunction preventing Google from any further meddling in the election.
Google meddling in elections is usually a conservative talking point. Two weeks ago, Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) asked the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate Big Tech companies, since they can sway elections. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has called for breaking up Big Tech companies, but censorship complaints like Gabbard’s often come from conservative circles, because Big Tech is dominated by liberal employees.
Just yesterday, a Google software engineer told Project Veritas that he suspects Google employees are indeed manipulating search results. If Gabbard’s campaign is correct, they are doing so much more than that.
The conservative video nonprofit PragerU sued Alphabet, the parent company of Google and YouTube, alleging “intentional” censorship of conservative voices on YouTube. YouTube has prevented certain audiences from seeing PragerU videos by putting them out of reach for users in “restricted mode.” PragerU is suing for violations of free speech and for unlawful viewpoint discrimination.
It may be impossible to prevent Google from interfering in the 2020 presidential election. Millions of Americans rely on Google search for news and information about candidates, and if psychology Ph.D. Robert Epstein is correct, Google’s pro-Hillary Clinton bias was responsible for her margin of victory in the popular vote in 2016.
Yet Gabbard’s lawsuit draws attention to Big Tech bias and its awful power to help decide elections. This is not just an issue for conservatives, but also for liberals. If Google can suppress a 2020 Democratic candidate today, then American politics may be at the whim of players in Silicon Valley for decades to come.