Democratic presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard is amping up her censorship allegations against the tech industry, adopting one of President Donald Trump’s favorite lines of attack before going on Wednesday night’s debate stage.
Gabbard, a Hawaii congresswoman running an unorthodox bid for the Democratic nomination, accused Google in court last week of violating her free speech by blocking her campaign’s ad account in the hours after the first Democratic presidential debate. During a prime-time appearance Monday on Fox News’ “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” she said her lawsuit was “about taking action on behalf of the American people” against tech titans like Google.
"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 told Carlson during an interview, one of several recent appearances she has made on the president’s favorite TV network.
Such attacks echo longstanding accusations by Trump and other Republicans that Silicon Valley giants suppress political viewpoints they don’t like. But they set Gabbard apart from most other Democrats, who dismiss Republicans’ censorship claims while slamming tech companies like Google, Facebook and Twitter for their huge size, alleged anti-competitive behavior and failure to stop the spread of disinformation and hate speech.
Google has disputed the accusations. A spokesperson said in a statement last week that the Gabbard ad suspension was brief and triggered automatically, and that the company moderates content "without bias toward any party or political ideology."
It’s far from the first time the search giant has had to contend with censorship allegations. Trump accused Google and other tech giants in a March tweet of being "on the side of the Radical Left Democrats." Last year, the president tweeted that Google is "suppressing voices of Conservatives and hiding information and news that is good."
But Gabbard’s push marks the first time a 2020 Democratic candidate has joined in that rhetoric. And conservatives, despite viewing themselves as the main targets of alleged political discrimination at the hands of Silicon Valley, are voicing support for Gabbard’s public brawl with Google.
“Congresswoman Gabbard is not a candidate favored by big tech and so her concerns that Google is acting on their political agenda by silencing views that are inconvenient or inconsistent with that agenda, those concerns are entirely plausible,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) told POLITICO.
Cruz, like Trump, has been an outspoken critic of what he calls widespread suppression of conservative speech online and abuse of power by tech companies like Facebook, Google and Twitter. His Senate Judiciary subcommittee has already held two hearings this year zeroing in on those claims, including one devoted specifically to censorship concerns at Google.
Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), who was briefly barred by Twitter from promoting an anti-abortion campaign ad deemed "inflammatory" in 2017, said she sympathized with Gabbard. "As someone who has had things blocked and banned, I fully appreciate what she’s doing," she said.
And Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), who has quickly emerged as one of the tech industry’s most vocal antagonists in Congress, said that “anything that shines a light” on the “evasive practices” of Google, Facebook and Twitter should be considered a positive step.
The biggest tech companies are routinely under fire from lawmakers of all political stripes, but Democrats primarily focus on issues around the industry’s impact on competition and push the companies to do more to combat Russian-style manipulation of social media heading into the 2020 election. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), one of Gabbard’s rivals for the Democratic nomination, has proposed breaking up Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple. (Gabbard has endorsed the proposal.)
Not all conservatives are sold on Gabbard’s freedom of speech argument. Ashkhen Kazaryan, a legal research fellow at the libertarian-leaning TechFreedom group, blasted the congresswoman’s remarks as the "poorly copied homework of Josh Hawley’s and Marsha Blackburn’s of the world."
"Without any real chance of being the Democratic nominee, Gabbard is flirting with the Trump base," she said.
Jamil Jaffer, assistant professor at the Antonin Scalia Law School at George Mason University, echoed the sentiment.
“No one should be fooled by Tulsi Gabbard’s recent attack on Google," he said. "Her claims about bias are completely spurious and simply represent a last-ditch effort to get her flagging campaign some attention by jumping on the ‘hate tech’ bandwagon that has going currency at the extreme edges of both political parties.”