LinkedIn censors ex-DHS senior official's posts decrying censorship of Hunter Biden laptop story

Microsoft-owned professional social network won't explain why content was removed, but Stewart Baker suspects his use of "rigged" in connection with 2020 election triggered algorithm.

Published: April 20, 2021 6:42pm

Updated: April 22, 2021 1:15pm

When the U.K.'s Daily Mail published a bombshell report on the verified contents of Hunter Biden's abandoned laptop earlier this month, sharing the "shocking details" the president's son left out of his low-selling memoir, Stewart Baker tried to share it.

Baker, a former National Security Agency general counsel and Department of Homeland Security subcabinet appointee now in private practice, took to LinkedIn. 

"The social media giants that won't let you say the 2020 election was rigged are the people who did their best to rig it: Hunter Biden laptop was genuine and scandalous — Daily Mail," Baker wrote, providing the report link.

The post didn't last long. The Microsoft-owned professional social network told Baker it had removed the post for violating its Professional Community Policies, and warned him that depending on "the severity of the violation, your account may be restricted indefinitely."

The policies vaguely state that posted content "should be professionally relevant and meant to contribute to the LinkedIn community in a constructive manner." They ask users to report content that may be "unsafe, untrustworthy, or unprofessional."

Its guidelines ask users not to post anything "misleading, fraudulent, obscene, threatening, hateful, defamatory, discriminatory, or illegal."

Baker was alarmed. "I've got more than 5000 contacts on Linkedin, and I use it in business almost every day," he wrote in a blog post this week. "Losing my account would be a blow."

It's been about 10 days since LinkedIn first threatened to suspend Baker's account, and it still hasn't told him how his post violated its rules, the lawyer told Just the News on Tuesday. "I've also been looking for a mechanism to appeal the original suppression, and I haven't found one," he wrote in an email.

LinkedIn declined to tell Just the News how Baker's post violated the network's rules, including whether his use of the word "rigged" triggered an algorithmic response. 

"Misleading and false information has absolutely no place on our platform," a spokesperson wrote in an email.

"While we can't comment on the specifics of a member's account due to our privacy policy, we can confirm that we only remove content if it's in violation of our policies," the email continued. "Every LinkedIn member has the right to a safe, trusted, and professional experience on our platform. We're committed to making sure conversations remain respectful and professional."

Baker's blog post demanded an explanation from none other than Microsoft president Brad Smith, its longtime general counsel and familiar face at D.C. tech policy events.

The lack of explanation shows the need for "laws requiring social media to provide far more transparency and better appeal procedures when they suppress content," Baker wrote. "But such laws alone do not seem adequate to the threat."

LinkedIn's action was reminiscent of Twitter's pre-election ban on users sharing a New York Post article on emails recovered from Hunter Biden's laptop. Twitter also suspended the Post's account for more than two weeks for its reports on the Biden family gleaned from the laptop.

This time, however, Twitter didn't touch Baker's Biden cross-post on its platform, the lawyer said.

A "magical notion about totemic power of the word 'rigged'"

LinkedIn's unexplained removal of his post both worried and intrigued Baker, who created the DHS Policy Directorate in the George W. Bush administration and now hosts a cyberlaw podcast as a partner at Steptoe & Johnson.

He had praised the Trump administration's proposal to revise but not gut Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which shields internet platforms like LinkedIn from liability for moderating user-posted content. 

Baker especially supported the Justice Department's idea to require platforms to state their moderation policies "plainly and with particularity" and explain "with particularity the factual basis" for any restrictions on user content.

"The only obvious cure for the widespread mistrust of platforms is for them to embrace greater transparency and candor," Baker wrote in the June post for the Lawfare blog. "This proposal would encourage them to move away from their largely opaque content moderation practices."

After his own content's opaque moderation, Baker decided to take a risk by posting several variations of his banned post to see how the "clueless authoritarian" would respond.

"How lame is it that Linkedin is suppressing the most detailed and careful story on the contents of the Hunter Biden laptop?" Baker wrote.

Arguing there's no way the Daily Mail report is "so wrong that it qualifies as misinformation," he commented that the platform is showing its "weakness and fear."

The lawyer asked readers to keep him apprised of which test posts they could see. The Daily Mail link itself did not appear to trigger scrutiny. Neither did posts that said "Hunter Biden laptop was genuine and scandalous," "Social media suppressed the Hunter Biden laptop story in the middle of the 2020 election campaign," or even "it was social media that interfered in the election by suppressing a true story that would have hurt Joe Biden."

The only version that drew another warning was the reposted original, which used "rigged" instead of "interfered," Baker said. He told Just the News he received that warning four to five days ago.

Letting the "interfered" version stand while removing the "rigged" version suggests the platform "has some magical notion about the totemic power of the word 'rigged' within five words of the word 'election,'" he wrote on LinkedIn.

While Baker guessed that a "lame algorithm" was responsible for removing his "rigged" posts, he's open to the possibility that LinkedIn is "suppressing stories that criticize its role in suppressing stories that hurt [President] Biden." 

The platform's apparent belief that "it is categorically evil and false to complain too colorfully about the 2020 election would be laughable if it weren't so dangerous," Baker said. Fortunately, "Big Social" is so "hamhanded" in its content policing that users can see how platforms will control speech in future election cycles.

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