Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard is suing Google alleging that the tech giant harmed her bid for the presidency and infringed on her free speech when it briefly suspended her campaign’s advertising account after the first Democratic primary debate in June.
Following her debate performance on June 26, Gabbard briefly became one of the most searched presidential candidates online. But as Gabbard was trending on Google, the company suspended her Google ads account for six hours. Gabbard says her campaign never received a clear answer as to why. Google messages referenced potential problems with billing information, suspicious payment activity or violations of their advertising policies.
The lawsuit says that the six-hour suspension of Google ads irreparably harmed Gabbard’s presidential campaign.
“Interest and searches for Gabbard during the post-debate timeframe had skyrocketed,” according to the complaint filed today in federal court. “Ads directing searchers to her campaign page would have brought Tulsi Gabbard’s unique message to millions of Americans — and would have undoubtedly increased the campaign donations Gabbard received.”
Gabbard suggests that the account suspension was retaliation for voicing her concerns about the power wielded by companies such as Google, Facebook and Amazon, and her advocacy for breaking up big tech companies, an allegation Google denies.
“Since at least June 2019, Google has used its control over online political speech to silence Tulsi Gabbard, a candidate millions of Americans want to hear from,” according to the complaint. “With this lawsuit, Tulsi seeks to stop Google from further intermeddling in the 2020 United States presidential election.”
Gabbard’s complaint describes Google as an “out-of-control tech giant looking to play favorites.”
Google said in a statement that the account suspension was triggered by automated systems that flag unusual activity on advertiser accounts, including large spending changes that are meant to prevent fraud and protect customers.
“In this case, our system triggered a suspension and the account was reinstated shortly thereafter,” according to the statement. “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.”
Gabbard, who on average has polled at about 1% throughout the Democratic primary, has complained throughout the campaign that establishment figures have sought to undermine her presidential bid. In addition to accusing Google of trying to muffle her campaign message, she has blamed the political establishment and mainstream media for ignoring or smearing her, suggesting in campaign materials that they are in the “pocket of the establishment war machine.”
The lawsuit was filed on Gabbard’s behalf by Los Angeles firm Pierce Bainbridge Beck Price & Hecht. Gabbard is seeking damages of $50 million, according to the New York Times.