NEW YORK – President Donald Trump, no doubt, owes a part of his success in the 2016 polls to Google and Facebook, which catapulted him to the White House after he was consistently the most searched and read personality online during his campaign, reigning over the American consciousness day in and day out.
After the first Democratic Presidential Primary debate in June of this year, Tulsi Gabbard, 38, the Democratic Congresswoman from Hawaii who was polling at only a paltry 1% at that time, had a ‘Trump’ moment of her own, albeit briefly.
Gabbard, who adheres to the Hindu faith, is the first female combat veteran ever to run for the presidency, and was the first female combat veteran ever elected to Congress, along with Tammy Duckworth.
On the debate stage, she intrigued viewers who were seeing her for the first time. Gabbard created a strong impression with an almost strange combination of calculated aloofness and nonchalant tact; came across as a tough customer to deal with in arguments.
Gabbard looked confident throughout the debate, didn’t seemed fazed or overwhelmed by the cacophony of almost desperate arguments around her; bided her time to make her case in the few quality minutes she got.
Overnight, Gabbard became a sensation.
Reports emerged of her being the most searched Democratic candidate online after the debate. Enthusiasm for her campaign surged. It seemed she might be the one Democratic candidate to break out going into the second debate.
Then came a shocker for her and her campaign. It hit them hard where it mattered – donations: Google allegedly paused her campaign’s advertising account for six hours after the Democratic presidential debate on June 28.
Last week, Gabbard took action for what she deemed as unfair action by Google. She filed a federal lawsuit in Los Angeles, alleging that Google infringed on her free speech when it paused her campaign’s advertising account.
“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 New York 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.”
Salon reported Gabbard’s attorney Brian Dunne explaining the move: “Just as her Google traffic was spiking, her Google ad account was taken offline.”
Google told the campaign the account was suspended for a billing violation. In a statement, via Politico, a spokesperson said the suspension was automatic.
“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,” Riva Sciuto was quoted as saying. “In this case, our system triggered a suspension and the account was reinstated shortly thereafter. 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.”
In the lawsuit, Gabbard’s campaign says Google “has not provided a straight answer” regarding what happened.
Gabbard now is seeking $50 million in damages and an injunction to keep Google from “further intermeddling in the 2020 United States Presidential Election.”
Gabbard has been a critic of the tech oligopolies since she announced her presidency. Gabbard previously warned that “big tech companies who take away our civil liberties and freedoms in the name of national security and corporate greed.”
On her campaign website Tulsi2020.com, Gabbard points out that Google controls 88 percent of all internet search in the United States.
“…Because if Google can do this to Tulsi, a combat veteran and four term Congresswoman who is running for the nation’s highest office, Google can do this to any candidate, from any party, running for any office in the United States,” read a statement on her website, on the lawsuit.
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, reported the Times.
“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.
On Monday, July 29, in an interview to Tucker Carlson on Fox News, Gabbard said she hopes her lawsuit against Google will show that Silicon Valley companies potentially have too much power, and Congress must act to prevent the tech giant from exerting too much influence.
“This is really about the unchecked power these big tech monopolies have over our public discourse and how this is a real threat to our freedom of speech and to our fair elections,” she said.
“So this really isn’t about me, it’s about taking action on behalf of the American people. Because we got to understand here if Google can do this to me, as a sitting member of Congress running for the highest office in the land, that means they can do this to any candidate running for any office around the country and frankly to any person in this country.
The Washington Post reported that the lawsuit was one more example of how Gabbard is not like other Democratic presidential candidates: ‘She’s a proud veteran, but one who harshly attacks U.S. military operations. She joined Republicans in criticizing President Barack Obama for not using the term “Islamic” in condemning terrorism. She has downplayed Robert Mueller’s special counsel report into Russian interference in the 2016 election and has resisted calls to impeach President Donald Trump.’
The Post noted how Gabbard, who has got 100,000 donors and counting, has an uphill task in front of her, as her unconventional approach might not be enough to vault into the top tier of candidates, and make her viable. For months, too, she has been without a campaign manager, a vacancy her team has insisted is the result of careful deliberation, not campaign dysfunction.
Her family has heavily pitched in. Her sister, Vrindavan, is a constant presence on the campaign trail, pinch-hitting on everything from travel logistics to social media posts, occasionally reminding Gabbard to eat between events. Gabbard’s husband, Abraham Williams, is the campaign’s videographer, reported the Post.
Despite her lawsuit, which has again put her in the limelight in America, it will be tough going for Gabbard. There is no credible evidence that technology companies are purposefully silencing political speech, said a prominent legal expert, reported Fortune.
“This persistent paranoia is driving conversations today,” Eric Goldman, co-director of the High Tech Law Institute at Santa Clara University, was quoted as saying. “Everyone feels like they’re biased against anytime they don’t get exactly what they want. If there was any interest in the facts, this case is a good example that bias is perceived on all sides.”
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, said the report.
It remains to be seen if Gabbard can pull off a Trump act, or even be $50 million richer if a judge sides with her argument.
For now, the hard grind as an underdog on the campaign trail continues for Gabbard.