Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, a Democratic longshot for the White House next year, sued Google on Thursday, accusing the tech giant of violating her free speech rights when it suspended her recent advertising campaign. Gabbard is seeking $50 million in damages.
In the lawsuit, filed in federal court in Los Angeles, the House member from Hawaii said Google engaged in “election manipulation” when it blocked her from running ads for several hours on June 28, immediately after the first Democratic debate. By suspending her ad campaign — at the same time searches for Gabbard were spiking — “Google violated the campaign’s federal and state rights to free speech,” according to the lawsuit.
A Google rep told TheWrap the brief suspension was due to “large spending changes” that were flagged by the company’s systems in order to prevent fraud.
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“In this case, our system triggered a suspension and the account was reinstated shortly thereafter,” the rep added. “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 First Amendment safeguards U.S. citizens against censorship at the hands of the government. Gabbard’s lawsuit claims that Google, despite being a private company, infringed on her free speech, because it acts as a “public forum” that is used for public use and benefit.
“Google serves as a state actor by performing an exclusively and traditionally public function by regulating free speech within a public forum and helping to run elections,” the lawsuit said. “Accordingly, speech cannot be arbitrarily, unreasonably, or discriminatorily excluded, regulated, or restricted on the basis of viewpoint or the identity of the speaker on Google’s platform.”
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Gabbard’s lawsuit also argued Google did not offer an adequate explanation for the ad campaign’s suspension. She is is currently polling at about 1% in the Democratic race, according to The New York Times.