Tulsi Gabbard’s Google Lawsuit Is About ‘Paranoia’ Against Big Tech, Says Legal Expert
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, a 2020 Democratic presidential contender, filed a lawsuit against Google on Thursday for temporarily suspending her advertising account, adding to the bipartisan chorus of complaints about perceived bias at tech companies.
Pointing fingers at tech companies for bias is easy, as shown by President Donald Trump, who does it nearly every day. However, there hasn't been any credible evidence that technology companies are purposefully silencing political speech, according to legal experts.
"This persistent paranoia is driving conversations today," says Eric Goldman, co-director of the High Tech Law Institute at Santa Clara University.
"Everyone feels like they're biased against anytime they don't get exactly what they want," Goldman says. "If there was any interest in the facts, this case is a good example that bias is perceived on all sides."
In Gabbard's case, the alleged bias came at an important time for building campaign momentum. Gabbard's lawsuit says Google suspended her ad account on June 28 after she participated in the Democratic primary debate. The timing, the lawsuit alleges, was intentional.
"Google (or someone at Google) didn’t want Americans to hear Tulsi Gabbard’s speech, so it silenced her," the lawsuit says.
A Google spokesperson denied it was intentional, and tells Fortune that Gabbard's account was flagged by the company's automated system, which is designed to detect fraudulent activity, such as large changes in spending.
"In this case, our system triggered a suspension and the account was reinstated shortly thereafter," the spokesperson says. "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 alleges—without citing evidence—that Google is purposefully putting Gabbard at a disadvantage by tweaking its Gmail algorithms, resulting in communications from her campaign going to the spam folders of recipients.
Gabbard's 2020 campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Fortune. However, on Thursday night, promoted tweets from Gabbard talking about the lawsuit began showing up in users' timelines.
"Google’s discrimination against our campaign reveals the danger of their dominance & how the dominance of big tech over public discourse threatens core American values.," the Hawaii congresswoman wrote.
"I'm not sure what she's trying to do," with this lawsuit, Goldman says. Most claims about the technology giants being biased have come from alt-right voices, not Democrats, and they've largely been based on anecdotes, not facts, he says.
"Her audience is presumably someone else, and I'm not sure who that audience is and why this might resonate with them," Goldman says.
Gabbard has already become a perplexing figure on the Internet. Despite recently polling at around 1%, pro-Trump communities on 4chan and Reddit have been doing everything they can to prop Gabbard up online. In a non-scientific poll after the debate by Drudge Report, Gabbard won overwhelmingly with 35% of the vote.