Tusli Gabbard, the Hawaii representative making a long-shot bid for the presidency, filed a $50 million lawsuit on Thursday against Google, accusing the platform of “silencing” her by suspending her Google Ads account shortly after the first Democratic debate.
Gabbard filed the suit in federal court in Los Angeles, accusing Google of violating her First Amendment rights and her free speech rights under the California constitution. According to the complaint, Gabbard’s Google Ads account was suspended for several hours on June 28, as people were searching for her name after the debate. She also claims that Gmail designates her campaign’s emails as spam at a higher rate than other candidates’ communications.
The suit is reminiscent of a complaint filed by Gabbard’s Republican colleague, California Rep. Devin Nunes, against Twitter in March. In that suit, Nunes accused Twitter of “shadow banning” his account, and also accused the service of allowing users to defame him. Nunes’ suit sought $250 million in damages.
The Gabbard suit notes that such accusations typically come from conservatives.
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“The company has been criticized by many on the right for censoring content that favors conservative viewpoints,” the suit states. “However, Google’s favoritism of political and policy ideas is more nuanced and self-serving. Simply put, Google supports viewpoints, political causes, and candidates that favor its policy positions over those that do not.”
Gabbard’s suit alleges that Google censored her because she has called for tougher government regulation of Google. She also sets herself apart from other prominent Democrats on that front, noting that Google employees and executives contributed generously to Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. She argues that the Obama administration “championed many of the top policies on Google’s wish list,” including shutting down an antitrust investigation.
The suit contends that Google wields unaccountable power to influence voters’ access to candidate information.
“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 suit argues. “In this case, Google has sought to silence Tulsi Gabbard, a presidential candidate who has vocally called for greater regulation and oversight of (you guessed it) Google. But this could happen to any candidate running in any election.”
Google issued a statement on Thursday saying that Gabbard’s acccount was briefly suspended due to “unusual activity,” and denied that it had anything to do with Gabbard’s political views.
“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,” said Riva Sciuto, a Google spokeswoman. “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.”