Tulsi Gabbard Files Ridiculous Lawsuit Against Google

Tulsi Gabbard has filed a seemingly frivolous lawsuit against Google due to a temporary suspension of her advertising account.

Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, who has been running for President and stuck far in the back of the pack, is suing Google claiming that it is improperly discriminating against her campaign:

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.

“Google’s arbitrary and capricious treatment of Gabbard’s campaign should raise concerns for policymakers everywhere about the company’s ability to use its dominance to impact political discourse, in a way that interferes with the upcoming 2020 presidential election,” the lawsuit said.

Ms. Gabbard and her campaign are seeking an injunction against Google from further meddling in the election and damages of at least $50 million.

Google has automated systems that flag unusual activity on advertiser accounts — including large spending changes — to prevent fraud, said Jose Castaneda, a spokesman for the company.

“In this case, our system triggered a suspension and the account was reinstated shortly thereafter,” he said. “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.”

No other campaigns have publicly claimed that Google has suspended their advertising accounts.

(…)

“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,” Ms. Gabbard said in a statement. “This is a threat to free speech, fair elections, and to our democracy, and I intend to fight back on behalf of all Americans.”

While assertions of tech firms tipping the scales against political opponents are largely unproven, the lawsuit taps into concern that tech companies aren’t transparent about how decisions are made and they aren’t held accountable when things go wrong.
Last week, senators homed in on Google in a subcommittee hearing about censorship in search. The hearing aired many largely unproven claims that Google tilts search results against conservative viewpoints.
“Google’s control over what people hear, read, watch and see is unprecedented,” said Senator Ted Cruz, the Republican from Texas who led the subcommittee. “With that market power, Google can and often does control our discourse.”

Gabbard campaign workers sent an email to a Google representative on June 27 at 9:30 p.m. once they realized the account had been suspended. In emails reviewed by The New York Times, the campaign sent Google a screenshot of a notice of suspension for “problems with billing information or violations of our advertising policies.”

The account was reactivated at 3:30 a.m. on June 28. In the email announcing that it had reinstated the account, Google wrote that the company temporarily suspended the campaign’s account to verify billing information and policy compliance, but offered no other explanation for what had happened.

The campaign said it had opened the Google advertising account in February and had bought ads on Google search before the suspension. It said there was no problem with its billing information and that it had not violated Google’s terms of service.

“To this day, Google has not provided a straight answer — let alone a credible one — as to why Tulsi’s political speech was silenced when millions of people wanted to hear from her,” the lawsuit said.

Without the ads, the Tulsi 2020 website, which has links for donations and information about the goals of her candidacy, appears in the first page of search results for “Tulsi Gabbard.” But it is below stories and videos about her — selected by a Google algorithm — and after her Wikipedia page, her Twitter profile and her congressional website.

Reading through the Complaint, which I’ve embedded below, I’m left with the inescapable conclusion that this is nothing more than a campaign stunt on Gabbard’s part. While it doesn’t seem to stray into the territory of being the kind of frivolous lawsuit that would warrant sanctions under Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, it comes pretty close. For example, while the Complaint does allege that the Gabbard advertising account was down for a period that coincides with the debate it doesn’t seem to me to do anything but make vague accusations that this was deliberate or that Google and its employees were deliberately non-responsive to the campaign’s complaints about the account being down. The Complaint does allege. though, that the company deliberately interfered with traffic to the campaign website and directs email from the campaign to potential supporters at an inordinate rate compared to other candidates. Though the Complaint makes these allegations, it doesn’t cite any facts other than innuendo to support these claims.

The Complaint further strays into the territory of the ridiculous when it gets to the point when it alleges the legal basis for the Complaint. The first two counts, for example, are allegations that Google has violated the free speech rights of Gabbard and her campaign under both the First Amendment and under similar provisions of the California Constitution. This, of course, is utterly ridiculous because the First Amendment only applies to government action and Google is, of course, not a government entity. This is also true of the similar provision of the California Constitution. Beyond those grounds, the Complaint also cites a number of Federal and California laws regarding business activity but these causes of action suffer from the same deficiency as the rest of the Complaint. Specifically, they are full of innuendo and conjecture but fail to allege anything that comes close to being a factual allegation of wrongdoing on Google’s part. In fact, by its own admission, the Complaint states that the Google Ads account was reinstated within hours after Google was notified of its apparently inadvertent suspension. While Gabbard and her campaign may really believe that this was all part of some vast conspiracy against her the Complaint doesn’t allege any facts to support that conclusion. Given this, I suspect it will not survive a Motion to Dismiss.

As for Gabbard herself, her campaign has basically gone nowhere since she entered the race in January. She has not polled above 2% in any national poll and has not performed any better in any of the statewide polls. Additionally, the campaign’s report to the Federal Election Commission shows that she raised less than $2 million in the second quarter of the year and that she raised less money from April 1st to June 30th than she had in the first month of the year. Despite this, Gabbard qualified for the first debate and also for the second debate. If she doesn’t improve on these poll and fundraising numbers, though, she’ll most likely fail to qualify for the third and fourth debates in September and October respectively. At that point, she will be among many candidates who will have to decide whether it’xs worthwhile to keep up this quixotic campaign.

Here’s the Complaint:

Tulsi Now Inc v. Google Et Al by Doug Mataconis on Scribd

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2020, Law and the Courts, US Politics,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. EddieInCA says:

    Her support of Assad is disqualifying to be President of the USA.

    Her lawsuit against Google is nothing more than a pathetic attempt at getting some news coverage.

    Most people are helped by a Presidential run. I think Tulsi’s will backfire tremendously.

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  2. My understanding is that she already has a challenger for the Democratic nomination for her seat.

  3. EddieInCA says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    She’s being opposed by Sen. Kai Kahele, a former Air National Guard pilot, and a solid progressive. It’s not surprising she’s being challenged, given how she’s at odds with most of the Democratic Party. And given how isolated Hawaii media is, the arguments against her will be heard by the population. The ads against her write themselves, given her positions.

    In the past, Gabbard, first elected in 2012, has refused to debate any of her primary challengers, and has easily won re-election last three elections. But this time it’s different. Her challenger has the support for of the State Democratic Party, not to mention Netroots Nation, Daily Kos, and several other influential groups. Gabbard will be in for a fight. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if she switched parties. I don’t think it will happen, but wouldn’t surprise me if she did.

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  4. grumpy realist says:

    What the heck is going on here? I guess the idea is “get me commented on in the papers, no matter how stupid it makes me look.”

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  5. SenyorDave says:

    @EddieInCA: In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if she switched parties.
    She seems like an opportunistic, whining politician who makes lots of moral compromises. Perfect for the modern Republican party. She also doesn’t seem to almost any liberal, much less progressive positions. Her platform seems to be mostly “I’m a vet and a very serious person, you should vote for me”.

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  6. Gustopher says:

    Republicans do hate Google, so she’s just playing to her base.

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  7. Josh says:

    @EddieInCA: This “article” and a lot of comments by folks are full of cheap smears and attacks. They are full of misinformation. For example, someone said, she’s for Assad and should be disqualified. You realize that she is a veteran and a current soldier in the Hawaii army national guard right? It’s incredulous how many of us will believe that someone who volunteers to put their life on the line for America and all Americans, is smeared as someone who is treasonous. As for this article. A campaign stunt, suing Google. Really? If you read the title and the first three paragraphs, (and all of it really), the author clearly shows bias (“unorthodox, far-behind, a political tactic,etc.)

    Yet, one paragraph explains that Facebook and big tech companies are increasingly becoming scrutinized by the government and that they are behaving badly with this very thing, shows that this is not made up and that the author is plain and simply writing yet another smear piece. Yawn.

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  8. CSK says:

    @Gustopher: Gabbard is a Democrat.

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  9. EddieInCA says:

    Josh –

    https://www.realclearpolitics.com/video/2019/02/06/morning_joe_panel_vs_rep_tulsi_gabbard_is_assad_an_enemy_of_the_united_states.html

    https://www.politico.com/story/2019/03/10/tulsi-gabbard-assad-syria-1214882

    https://www.cnn.com/2019/02/06/politics/tulsi-gabbard-syria-assad/index.html

    I never said she was treasonous. I said her support for Assad is disqualifying for the Presidency.

    Read those links and tell me she’s a straight shooter with the best interests of the US in mind. She fails the Commander in Chief test, in my opinion.

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  10. Gustopher says:

    @CSK: She tends to run as the Democrat that Republicans can support, so I would count the Google haters among her base. And, a gentle swipe at Google, which is what this lawsuit ultimately is, will play well to them.

    If she didn’t have to get through the primary, that rightward path might be a good path to take.

  11. An Interested Party says:

    She fails the Commander in Chief test, in my opinion.

    Which, of course, is meaningless as she’ll never get anywhere near the nomination…these D-list politicians/entrepreneurs/faith healers really need to give it up and move on to something more substantial for themselves…

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  12. Bill says:

    @Gustopher:

    Republicans do hate Google, so she’s just playing to her base.

    My wife has a good friend who hates Google and threatens to cut it out. I don’t know what political affiliation is.

  13. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @SenyorDave: Well yeah, but the reason that a politician switches parties is because she can sell a “crisis of conscience” to the rubes in the electorate. Can a Republican even win in Hawaii? (I honestly don’t know.) And even if it’s possible to, can she pull off the crisis of conscience angle? Again, I don’t know, but from what I’ve heard about her, she’s not the sharpest little spoon in the silverware tray.

    ETA: Maybe One American will check in with us to let us know. He or she claims to live in Hawaii.

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  14. Caroline Sinavaiana Gabbard says:

    @Doug Mataconis: Her opponent is an excellent candidate, and I have joined many voters in Hawai`i in supporting him.

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  15. FrankZ says:

    Given the amount of abuse that social media has inflicted on the political process (in the UK a company called Cambridge Analytica stole Facebook data to influence their EU referendum) she is right to call them out. Otherwise our internet connections are just another propaganda tool like Fox News.

  16. Google is working with the Communist Chinese. They are the enemy not the Russians. Tulsi is the only Democrat who can beat Trump, the rest just want to be the next warmongering monster.

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  17. Tyrell says:

    I have been trying to get away from Google. The cell phone people have told me that my cell phone will not work without it. I am looking for cell phones and providers that are not tied to Google. Perhaps some of you can suggest one.
    What we have is a corporate/government complex. Google is too powerful.

  18. Neil Hudelson says:

    @Tyrell:

    Apple phones. Window phones. Those are pretty much your non-android (google) options.

  19. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Neil Hudelson: Of course, he could just realize that if he doesn’t use the “smart” capabilities of his phone service (which seems to me a wise choice because as I recall, he was using a 4G flip phone), he doesn’t need to care who operates the system.

    I use a flip phone, too. I have intentionally used it to check my email exactly one time and have never surfed the net on it. The screen is to small to see stuff on. 🙂

  20. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Tyrell: You might check with Tracfone for service. I don’t know who operates their browser for them, but when I have triggered it by accident a couple of times, I didn’t see a logo for Google.

  21. Truthi2020 says:

    Beware the Tulsi Trolls will be out in full force to comment on this article. Her lawsuit is as credible as her campaign to be president. Google has every right to ban her from its search engine pending the lawsuit she filed.

  22. Dutchgirl says:

    @Caroline Sinavaiana Gabbard: Am I correct that you are Tulsi’s aunt? I think her primary opponent has a good chance, but I also know a lot of people on Hawaii Island in particular that are strong supporters of Tulsi.