Representative Tulsi Gabbard, the long-shot presidential candidate from Hawaii, said in a federal lawsuit that Google infringed on her free speech when it briefly suspended her campaign’s advertising account after the first Democratic debate in June.
The lawsuit, filed on Thursday in a federal court in Los Angeles, is believed to be the first time a presidential candidate has sued a major technology firm.
In a twist that reflects Ms. Gabbard’s unorthodox political views, the claim that her speech was stifled by Google is similar to complaints made over the last year in Republican circles. Few Democrats have raised similar concerns.
Big tech companies like Google are getting increasing scrutiny by lawmakers and regulators around the world for a wide variety of issues, including their influence on political debate, their handling of consumer data, and the aggressive way they compete with smaller companies.
A day before the Gabbard lawsuit was filed, Facebook said the Federal Trade Commission had opened a formal antitrust investigation into its business practices. Earlier in the day, the F.T.C. announced that Facebook was fined a record $5 billion for deceiving users about their ability to control the privacy of their personal data.
Tulsi Now Inc., the campaign committee for Ms. Gabbard, said Google suspended the campaign’s advertising account for six hours on June 27 and June 28, obstructing its ability to raise money and spread her message to potential voters.
After the first Democratic debate, Ms. Gabbard was briefly the most searched-for candidate on Google. Her campaign wanted to capitalize on the attention she was receiving by buying ads that would have placed its website at the top of search results for her name.
The lawsuit also said the Gabbard campaign believed its emails were being placed in spam folders on Gmail at “a disproportionately high rate” when compared with emails from other Democratic candidates.
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 t.co/n7Y7y2dQZ9
— Tulsi Gabbard (@TulsiGabbard) July 25, 2019