Tulsi Gabbard sues Google for $50 million

The lawsuit alleges that the tech behemoth infringed on her free speech

By Nicole Karlis

Senior Writer

Published July 25, 2019 7:22PM (EDT)

Tulsi Gabbard (Getty/Scott Olson)
Tulsi Gabbard (Getty/Scott Olson)

On Thursday, Representative Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) filed a federal lawsuit alleging that tech giant Google infringed on her free speech when it paused her campaign’s advertising account for six hours after the Democratic presidential debate on June 28.

The lawsuit was filed in federal court in Los Angeles. It is believed to be the first time a presidential candidate has sued a major technology company.

“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 statement. “This is a threat to free speech, fair elections and to our democracy, and I intend to fight back on behalf of all Americans.”  

After the June debate, Gabbard was one of the top searches on Google. According to Politico, Gabbard’s campaign decided it was an optimal time to take advantage of her popularity on Google and buy search ads.

Gabbard’s attorney Brian Dunne explained via Politico: “Just as her Google traffic was spiking, her Google ad account was taken offline.”

Google told the campaign the account was suspended for a billing violation. In a statement, via Politico, a spokesperson said the suspension was automatic.

"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,” Riva Sciuto said. “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."

Dunne said though the suspension prevented the Gabbard campaign from really speaking to the people because it “had no possibility of putting up Google ads.”

"They had no ability to really speak to the people who wanted to hear from her,’’ he said.

In the lawsuit, Gabbard’s campaign says Google “has not provided a straight answer” regarding what happened. Gabbard is seeking $50 million in damages and an injunction to keep Google from “further intermeddling in the 2020 United States Presidential Election.”

Gabbard has been a critic of the tech oligopolies since she announced her presidency. Gabbard previously warned that “big tech companies who take away our civil liberties and freedoms in the name of national security and corporate greed.”

By Nicole Karlis

Nicole Karlis is a senior writer at Salon, specializing in health and science. Tweet her @nicolekarlis.

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