Democratic presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard is suing Google after the tech giant temporarily suspended her campaign’s Google ads account in the hours following the first Democratic debate in June.
The lawsuit, filed in a Los Angeles federal court Thursday, alleges that Google violated Gabbard’s free speech rights, silencing her campaign at a crucial time when Americans were searching for her online. The Hawaii congresswoman, polling in the low single-digits in most national polls, won notice at the June 26 from a tense exchange with fellow Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio over foreign policy. Gabbard’s brand of non-interventionist foreign policy distinguishes the Army National Guard veteran from much of the Democratic field, though she’s drawn significant criticism for allegedly going soft on Syrian strongman Bashar Assad.
Gabbard’s presidential campaign claims she was the most searched candidate on Google during the first post-debate hours.
Just as her Google traffic was spiking, her Google ad account was taken offline, the campaign contends.
“For hours, Tulsi’s campaign advertising account remained offline while Americans everywhere were searching for information about her,” the campaign said in a statement. “During this time, Google obfuscated and dissembled with a series of inconsistent and incoherent reasons for its actions. In the end, Google never explained to us why Tulsi’s account was suspended.”
Gabbard is a vocal proponent of breaking up tech monopolies, warning that Big Tech companies take away “civil liberties and freedoms in the name of national security and corporate greed.” Her campaign says that makes timing of the ad-blocking episode highly suspicious.
The campaign says they were given “inconsistent and incoherent reasons” from Google for the ad block. Gabbard was first told a violation of billing and advertising practices triggered the suspension.
A Google spokesman, Jose Castaneda, didn’t get into specifics about the ads’ disappearance.
“In this case, our system triggered a suspension and the account was reinstated shortly thereafter,” Castaneda said in a 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.”
The lawsuit also accuses the Silicon Valley company of directing campaign emails into spam folders of recipients at “a disproportionately high rate” compared to other Democratic candidates. Gabbard is seeking an injunction and $50 million in damages.
This lawsuit comes as the Department of Justice prepares to launch an antitrust investigation into big tech companies. The review will examine concerns of consumers and businesses relating to potential anti-competitive behavior.