Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) sued Google for $50 million on Thursday, saying the tech giant violated her right to free speech when it briefly suspended her advertising account after the last Democratic presidential debate.
The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Los Angeles, comes after Gabbard’s campaign said its Google advertising account was suspended for about six hours, shortly after the lawmaker finished the first showdown between Democratic candidates last month. Gabbard is one of more than 20 candidates running to unseat President Donald Trump, but is still waging a long shot campaign for the White House and hasn’t yet managed to crack the top echelon of any polls.
“For hours, Tulsi’s campaign advertising account remained offline while Americans everywhere were searching for information about her,” Gabbard’s campaign wrote after the suit was filed. “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.”
The suit is demanding at least $50 million in damages and an injunction that would prevent the tech company from doing so again against any other candidate. The New York Times notes that her criticism echoes those made by Republicans in past election cycles. It’s also believed to be the first time a presidential candidate has sued a big tech company.
Google has denied any nefarious reasoning behind the suspension, and a company spokesperson told The Associated Press it has automated systems to flag any unusual activity. That happened in Gabbard’s case, and her advertising account was reinstated shortly after.
“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,” another spokesperson told The Hill. “In this case, our system triggered a suspension and the account was reinstated shortly thereafter.”
Tech giants have faced increased scrutiny in recent months. The Federal Trade Commission slapped Facebook with a record $5 billion fine for mishandling user data related to the Cambridge Analytica scandal this week. Facebook also said it was subject to a new formal antitrust investigation by the FTC.
Gabbard said she was troubled by the sweeping reach tech companies like Google can have, saying the suspension was a “threat” she intended to fight on behalf of all American voters.
“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 to the Times. “This is a threat to free speech, fair elections and to our democracy, and I intend to fight back on behalf of all Americans.”