After enduring years of targeted censorship, the Republican National Committee is suing Google for mass labeling millions of RNC campaign email communications to its supporters and donors as ‘spam’ during ‘tipping points in election cycles’ .
The lawsuit, filed in federal court in California, where Google is headquartered, seeks an injunction ordering Google to stop its “mass blatant filtering” and seeking “actual, statutory, and exemplary damages” and lawyers. ‘ costs.
Political campaigns and political parties increasingly depend on email services, such as Gmail. While the midterm elections will soon be over, the 2024 presidential election cycle will begin soon after, and the decision in this case could have a serious impact on both the course and the outcome of the election. next presidential election.
The RNC alleges that Google discriminates against Republicans by using its spam filter algorithm to reduce the visibility of RNC emails, including labeling RNC emails as “spam” to people who have specifically requested to be featured on the RNC email communication list.
Specifically, Google has targeted the RNC’s fundraising efforts, resulting in the loss of approximately more than $2 billion in donations since 2019, according to the complaint.
But the lawsuit also alleges that Google targeted its emails that “communicate[e] political messages and important information about Get-Out-The-Vote.
Emails are a “crucial conduit” for the RNC to engage “in its primary mission of carrying out political activities”, which is undoubtedly true for all political parties and party organizations, not just the RNC.
Earlier this year, North Carolina State University released a study that found emails from Republican election candidates were flagged as spam at an 820% higher rate than emails from their Democratic opponents, significantly disadvantaging Republican candidates.
As the RNC argued, this study credibly proves that Google’s spam filter algorithm deliberately censors Republicans.
Instead of ending censorship of Republican candidates, Google “kept silent,” according to the complaint, and stopped responding to the RNC’s efforts to find a cure, instead urging the RNC to join its “Program.” from verified sender”, which would impose even stricter rules on RNC emails that would not address censorship.
And the RNC says discrimination by Google in filtering its emails increased dramatically in February this year as the 2022 election cycle began,
The lawsuit provides an interesting historical context for the alleged violations which underscores that although the Internet and email communications are modern technological developments, the principle involved and the problem of a private company having “dominant market control on important communications is not a problem. new.
The complaint points out that in the mid-1800s, the equivalent of today’s electronic mail communications were telegrams and the new telegraph system. Much like Google today, one company, Western Union, “had a dominant market share nationwide.”
The complaint alleges that Google controls 53% of email traffic in the country.
Citing NetChoice LLC v. Paxton, one out of 5 cases this yeare U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the complaint says lawmakers were concerned about “the possibility that private entities that controlled this amazing new technology of ‘near instantaneous communications via the telegraph system’ would use this power to manipulate the flow of information to the public”. when it served their own economic or political interest.
Western Union has “repeatedly discriminated” against certain telegram senders because of their political views and affiliations, and influenced the “reporting of political elections for the purpose of promoting the election of candidates” favored by company directors .
Many states have enacted laws prohibiting such discrimination in telegraph services, including California, which is apparently one of the reasons this lawsuit was filed in that state. The RNC says Google is a “common carrier” within the meaning of that state’s law which requires communications companies to “deliver messages without time, price or other preference.”
The complaint further alleges that Google violates a California civil rights law that guarantees “full and equal” treatment by all business establishments. Exclusionary policies based on “political affiliation” constitute unlawful discrimination.
The RNC also alleges violations under California’s unfair trade practices law, as well as tort claims for “negligent and willful interference in potential economic dealings.”
In addition to these claims under state law, the RNC alleges that Google’s discriminatory actions violate the federal telecommunications law, 47 USC § 202. The RNC acknowledges that the Federal Communications Commission does not currently classify Google as a “common carrier” within the definition of that law and that several court rulings have upheld the FCC’s decision as reasonable. But the RNC says it is preserving “the matter for further consideration or intervening Supreme Court authority.”
This is an important case because it raises a critical issue that the courts, Congress, and state legislatures must address. When private companies virtually dominate or monopolize the communications used by the public, as Western Union did throughout the 19e century – are they prohibited from practicing discrimination, selective censorship and filtering based on the views, opinions and political interests of the administrators of these companies? Or should they be treated like other private entities over which the government has no regulatory authority?
Google has abused its dominance of email and Internet browsing to control online speech. Whatever the outcome of this case, the tech giant should be much more transparent with the American people about how it moderates and censors content. The country would never accept a telecommunications company blocking phone calls or the postal service redirecting political mail. The law should ensure the same respect and protection for private email communications.
Solving this case will help determine the future of digital communications. But we shouldn’t have to rely on the courts to hold Big Tech accountable. Lawmakers should prioritize legislation that demands greater transparency and prevents Big Tech from monopolizing and controlling this critical infrastructure.
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