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The $50 million lawsuit filed by Rep. Tulsi Gabbard’s presidential campaign against Google Thursday is perhaps the most direct punch thrown by a 2020 Democrat against Big Tech.
But the allegation that Google unfairly barred the Hawaii congresswoman from buying ads didn’t come in a vacuum. Popular YouTubers on the left have been lobbing similar accusations that the company has stifled their speech in recent weeks.
The complaint from Gabbard’s fading campaign both echoes those charges and showcases how the far left and right have forged a weird alliance in bashing Silicon Valley. It also outlines how their Big-Tech playbooks diverge.
“[Google] has been criticized by many on the right for censoring content that favors conservative viewpoints,” Gabbard’s lawsuit says. “However, Google’s favoritism of political and policy ideas is more nuanced and self-serving. Simply put, Google supports viewpoints, political causes, and candidates that favor its policy positions over those that do not.”
For Gabbard, who’s arguably the pro-Trump media’s favorite Democrat for her anti-interventionist streak, the real bias is pro-corporate. And her campaign’s lawsuit lays out what it sees as Google’s tacit alignment with mainstream Democrats like Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.
Gabbard’s lawsuit alleges that Google stepped on her speech after the first Democratic presidential debate in June. Converting nationally televised moments into sustained media bumps is key for campaigns attempting to gain traction and raise money.
"Simply put, Google supports viewpoints, political causes, and candidates that favor its policy positions over those that do not.”
In the hours after the debate, however, Gabbard couldn’t purchasing ads in the all-powerful search engine for six hours. Her lawsuit seeks damages of at least $50 million — about 30 times more than what her campaign raised from individual contributions in the entire second quarter.
Google chalks up Gabbard’s inability to purchase ads to an automated security measure gone awry.
“In this case, our system triggered a suspension and the account was reinstated shortly thereafter,” the company said in a statement circulated to media outlets. “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 company has offered up similar defenses to conservative charges of censorship. But whereas the popular YouTuber Steven Crowder, Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, and others have charged that Big Tech is silencing right-wing views specifically, the lefty critique suggests that Silicon Valley is quashing independent creators more broadly. The latter implies that massive corporations are trying to clean up their platforms for advertisers.
“I love this woman”
Gabbar’s lawsuit is already exciting extremely online lefties like Tim Pool, a prolific YouTuber who routinely rails on the political establishment to his more than 1 million followers across multiple channels.
“I love this woman,” Pool said in a video after Gabbard’s suit dropped. “This is exactly what I’ve been talking about whenever I say these big companies have too much power.”
Such independent creators fear that power could be used against them. David Pakman, a progressive commentator who broadcasts across radio, TV, and YouTube, has repeatedly told his 705,000 followers on the platform that his channel is being unfairly targeted. In a series of recent videos, Pakman alleged that YouTube has down-ranked him in its “recommended” video algorithm — a key driver of traffic — in favor of established news outlets like CNN.
Progressive YouTubers including Pool and Kyle Kulinski (who has 703,000 followers) have leveled similar critiques, despite large and growing audiences. Representatives for Google did not immediately respond to VICE News’ request for comment on the claims.
In sharing the concerns with his viewers, Pakman also took the opportunity to point them to his subscription program, a revenue source disconnected from YouTube.
“My idea is that every dollar that I can get without a middle person is a dollar that is not at risk if YouTube doesn't want to monetize my entire channel or individual pieces of it,” Pakman told VICE News in June. “If we directly support media we like, we don't need to worry about this sort of thing.”
Gabbard has similarly seized on the media interest in her lawsuit. Her campaign blasted out a fundraising appeal and launched a new advertisement warning that “the increasing dominance of tech companies over public discourse threatens core American values.”
Where did her campaign place that ad? Facebook.
Cover image: Reps. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., right, and Ben McAdams, D-Utah, attend the House Financial Services Committee markup in Rayburn Building on Tuesday, July 16, 2019. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via AP Images)