Tulsi Gabbard: Taking on Big Tech
Why her bold move against Google is so important, whether or not she wins the White House
Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) announced in July that she filed suit against Google for infringing on her free speech when it temporarily banned her advertising accounts following the first Democratic presidential primary debate. Drudge Report’s post-event poll pegged Gabbard as the debate winner by a landslide. She was trending on Google, Facebook, and Twitter following her performance.
“Google plays favorites, with no warning, no transparency, and no accountability,” the lawsuit reads. “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 the days following the Democratic debate, Gabbard’s campaign sought to capitalize on the high increase in web traffic by purchasing Google ads to direct potential supporters to her campaign website. Google temporarily restricted her account from purchasing ads, causing Gabbard and her team to lose out not only on adding potentially thousands of unique donors to her campaign but also from getting her message out to voters. She is suing Google for $50 million — what it could cost to reach that many potential voters inorganically. To date, her campaign has raised just shy of $6 million from over 150,000 unique donors — cementing her status as a top tier Democratic candidate.
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Is the lawsuit serious enough to yield real change?
The First Amendment does protect free speech, but with regard to government infringement; whereas private citizens and companies generally enjoy a wide berth.
The presidential hopeful’s lawsuit contends the First Amendment constraints apply to Google because “its platform for public use and public benefit, inviting the public to utilize Google as a forum for free speech. 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.” (Read the full Gabbard v. Google lawsuit here.)
Google and Facebook are technically private companies, but they’ve painted themselves into a gray area because publishers are also liable for what they produce, and these companies don’t self-identify as publishers at all. They’re operating in two different veins yet neither at the same time — acting as publishers (screening content) while remaining non-susceptible to First Amendment laws.
Gabbard’s lawsuit further alleges Google is sending her campaign emails to users’ spam folders at disproportionately higher rates than her democratic counterparts. Google has denied this claim.
Her critics call her lawsuit a distraction from her “failing campaign.”(She has yet to qualify for the third Democratic debate in September, and is currently taking two weeks off to deploy on a joint training mission with the Indonesian military. Gabbard is a major in the US Army National guard.) However, Tulsi has been able to generate a substantial amount of grassroots support, despite her negative depictions in the media. The opposition bleats that her complaint reads more like a campaign ad than credible legal action.
Regardless of political theory — The congresswoman’s lawsuit comes at a critical time. Tech censorship and voter manipulation are on the forefront of political thought with 2020 looming overhead. Republicans and Democrats alike have a stake in ensuring US elections aren’t tampered with nefariously, whether they admit it or not.
“There is one group in the United States that is allowed to do [whatever they want] and that’s big tech. Because congress has given them a special subsidy, an immunity to liability so they don’t bear the consequences of their actions.”
-Ted Cruz (R-TX)
Robert Epstein, a vociferous Hillary Clinton supporter, testified in July that Google manipulated the public so enormously that it is estimated 2.6–10.4 million voters were swung into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s camp in the 2016 US Presidential election.
Hillary Clinton’s largest financial supporter was Google’s parent company, Alphabet Inc. In fact, 99% of all Google executives donated exclusively to Democratic political campaigns in 2016 — while less than 1% donated to Republicans.
“Without monitoring systems in place, we will never know what these companies are doing. In 2020 you can bet these companies are going to go all out, and the methods they’re using are invincible, they’re subliminal, and they’re more powerful than most any effects I’ve ever seen in the behavioral sciences…. They control these [manipulation methods] and no one can counteract them. These are tools that they have at their disposal exclusively.”
-Robert Epstein, Ph.D.
Epstein is a research psychologist, the former editor-in-chief of Psychology Today, a contributing editor for Scientific American Mind, and the founder and Director Emeritus of the Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies.
The Establishment’s War On Tulsi
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In the 2018 US midterm elections, Facebook sent out a targeted message to Democrats in swing counties reminding them to “Go Vote!” It’s been determined this single effort encouraged approximately 360,000 voters to get the polls who wouldn’t have otherwise participated in the election. But the problem doesn’t stop at what tech companies are putting in front of users. It also encapsulates what they’re not allowing consumers to see.
“Big tech wants to act as gatekeepers between the users and the content they’re trying to access…. They’re going to filter the content and say, ‘Actually we don’t want to give the user access to that information because it could produce an outcome that is undesirable to us.”
-Project Veritas on big tech censorship
Tulsi Gabbard may be the most high profile person as of late to take on big tech in the legal arena, but she isn’t the first (although she is the most vociferous).
Conservative and progressive voices alike have shared concerns about the monopolies large technology companies hold; Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley, and Tucker Carlson aren’t the only voices sounding alarm bells over big tech censorship. Progressive talk hosts, David Pakman, Kyle Kulinski, and Tim Pool have also blasted Google and Facebook for shadow banning, down-ranking their videos, and demonetizing their content. (Mainstream Democrats and neocons, however, have largely dismissed the issue.)
The ability of these two companies alone — Facebook and Google — to control what we see and don’t see on the internet is disturbing, but their reach doesn’t stop there. Alphabet Inc., Google’s parent company, currently owns YouTube, Android, ReCaptcha, Google, and all Google partnership programs, which include Gmail, AdSense, Translate, Maps, Nexus, Wallet, Chrome, and more. For its part, Facebook owns its namesake, Instagram, WhatsApp, Oculus VR, and about a dozen other companies — including the recently launched international cryptocurrency, Libra.
The ability of these tech conglomerates to influence the content users have access to is an incredibly massive, yet unprecedented problem.
Prager University, a conservative nonprofit, also sued Google this year claiming free speech censorship. Google has famously demonetized a handful of conservative users and members of the “intellectual dark web” in recent years including Stephen Crowder, Jordan Peterson, and Dave Rubin.
Prager is accusing the company of illegally restricting profits, advertising discrimination, fraudulent business practices, unfair competition, breach of contract and consumer fraud. In March, courts ruled in favor of Google saying although Google is a public forum, it is not run by a “state actor” — censorship by private companies is allowed. (Remember, private citizens are given a wide berth concerning First Amendment violations.)
That is the case in point of the argument many are making concerning giant tech companies. Facebook, Google, Twitter, and Instagram have changed the way our world works. It’s estimated that over 70% of US adults use Facebook, 1.3 billion people use YouTube, Google controls over 90% of internet search traffic worldwide, and the average person conducts 3–4 Google searches every day. Google is where we get almost all of our information. The power big tech companies hold to sway the opinion of the general public is astounding. Yet, they’re mostly completely unregulated.
Clearly, the law regarding these unprecedented tech behemoths needs to be re-written, and can’t just be settled through the courts (can they?).
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Tulsi’s War is Our War.
Tulsi Gabbard may not win the war with Google, but she’s fighting a battle that desperately needs to be waged in the public arena for all to hear.
The proof has been exposed — Google is not only censoring political figures they disagree with, but launching a massive manipulation campaign to influence the outcome of US and world elections.
Some of the biggest issues of the 2020 Presidential cycle continue to be illegal immigration, healthcare, and interventionist war policies — but perhaps we should be asking a deeper question: Should a handful of Silicon Valley elites wield so much power over our culture? What is to be done concerning accountability and oversight for big tech?
Tulsi’s lawsuit may not be the answer, but it is certainly a signal of a movement that is brewing. A movement built of everyday people that Silicon Valley should be very afraid of.
Secret Coran-Stacy is an author, entrepreneur, and a senior contributor to CitizenSource, writing with a focus on U.S. elections and politics, media criticism, and immigration. She hails from Little Rock, Arkansas.
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