A door reads 'Blocked, No Access'
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LinkedIn Kicked Me Out, Without Really Telling Me Why

Social media seems to be having a tryst with corporate censorship, and that can be really bad news for its users.

LinkedIn permanently suspended my account in September last year. When I appealed their decision, I received a message saying: “Your account has violated the LinkedIn User Agreement and Professional Community Policies. Due to the number and/or gravity of these violations, this account has been permanently restricted.”

I asked for specifics regarding the content that had triggered this action but at the time, LinkedIn refused to give any. They didn't even tell me which post of mine had violated their content policy. I appealed to LinkedIn multiple times through their customer care, uploaded my photo ID each time (mandatory for appeals) but was simply met with a definitive, unemotional, no-questions-answered rejection. A sudden break-up can be tough but being ghosted is just confusingly painful.


The last post I’d made was the day before my suspension. It was about the exploitation of lower-rung workers in digital startups in India. It contained a particular reference to Swiggy, an Indian food delivery service startup. 

This suspension didn’t come out of nowhere. I’d received two temporary account suspensions before, a few months earlier. I didn't realise it initially, but each of my suspensions came after a post or comment of mine criticised a prominent corporation or their employees. 

Of course, I don't have any direct proof this was the reason but it was hard to miss the pattern. My suspicions were backed by another set of events that happened around the same time. Neither happened to me personally, but they were cases that I’d read about.

Taken down

White Hat Jr (WHJr) is an Indian ed-tech start-up that teaches coding to young kids via an online platform. Last year, the young company launched an aggressive advertising campaign that caught the attention of the vast Indian middle class. 

This advertisement blitzkrieg also came at cost. It came under the radar of a few corporate activists and effervescent social media users who roundly criticised various aspects of their products and marketing efforts. WHJr didn’t take this too kindly and reacted aggressively. This saga was covered in a Forbes report published on October 22. 


According to this report, the critics found their posts taken down quickly across social media platforms, including YouTube, LinkedIn, Reddit, Twitter and Quora. Most, if not all, of these actions came without due process, and some of these critics of WHJr found themselves censored arbitrarily. WHJr then escalated the fight by filing multi-crore defamation lawsuits against two of its biggest critics, Pradeep Poonia and Aniruddha Malpani. These lawsuits sought $2.6 million and $1.9 million in damages respectively. 

Pradeep Poonia also saw his Twitter account suspended the day after the first hearing of the petition against him. This action by Twitter came despite no such directive from the court hearing the petition. His social media pages on LinkedIn, and Reddit also reportedly got taken down. 

But it’s Malpani’s experience that rings closer to home for me. 

Malpani’s LinkedIn was permanently barred after he shared a video clip concerning WHJr that then accused him of causing severe damage to their reputation and business by his tweets, in their defamation suit. Malpani has in turn taken LinkedIn to the courts for banning his account. This case is still being heard with the next hearing scheduled for April 9.

The absolute lack of transparency, not to mention the arbitrary nature of these actions by social media platforms, made me wonder about its legality. For in India, all citizens are guaranteed a few basic rights, like the freedom of speech and expression. So, why can't these rights be honoured by these platforms and what can we mere mortals do in return?


“A private citizen can file a writ petition against a state entity if they feel aggrieved or their fundamental rights violated,” said Tanvir Anas, an advocate on record in the Supreme Court of India. Anas also suggested that I could petition the concerned ministry in the case of lack of response, and that, I could include the Government in my court petition too. 

But—and this is the most important point—petitions regarding fundamental rights can be filed only against the state or the government. And in my case, LinkedIn or for that matter any social media platform, is neither of those.

According to Tanvir Anas, the “Doctrine of Public Function”' needs to apply here. This means, an entity (even a private company) that performs a public function can be deemed as a public entity and thereby is liable to uphold the fundamental rights of the citizens. Do social media platforms perform that role? 

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This Doctrine was part of the arguments made by Sanjay Hedge in his writ petition to the Delhi High Court against Twitter for suspending his account. Hegde, a senior advocate at the Supreme Court of India, got suspended by Twitter in October 2019, when he posted an anti-Nazi photo as his account's cover picture. He had more than 50,000 followers at the time of his suspension from Twitter. At the Delhi High Court, Hedge's counsel argued, “Twitter qualified as an audio-visual media or closely related media which was performing a public function.”


Hegde's case is still open in the courts but not many are convinced about its maintainability. Devdutta Mukhopadhyay, the associate litigation counsel of Indian digital liberties organisation Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF) told me that the Public Function Doctrine doesn’t apply to social media platforms because individually, they don't have a monopoly.

So, now what?

Mukhopadhyay said that there are several approaches that one can take to address this issue. “One approach could be redefining the public function test in a manner which includes social media giants,” she said. Another option is “regulation through legislation enacted by Parliament."

The Indian government has shown a steady inclination to plug this blackhole in the law. On February 25, they brought out new guidelines for “Social Media Intermediaries,” which called for “prior intimation” to the user whose content is to be removed “with a notice explaining the grounds and reasons for such action”. The government also insists on “adequate and reasonable opportunity” for the users to contest any action taken by the platforms. 

But this is a case specific approach by the government to the problem, and I’m unsure if it’s enough to address the scale of things. To give you an idea, Facebook reports they took down 26.9 million pieces of hate speech content in Q3 of this financial year, a massive leap from 9.6 million in the first quarter. This doesn’t include the 6.3 million content pieces that were taken down for bullying and harassment. Is the overloaded Indian judiciary prepared to hear even a small chunk of these cases if they come up for a mediated hearing?

The sheer number of social media posts and takedown measures taken on a day-to-day basis in a large country like India makes this approach counter-productive. 


This is why Mukhopadhya said that she believed in encouraging social media platforms to relook the process of moderation itself rather than focusing on specific cases. “Instead of punishing social media companies for failing to take down within specific timelines, we should instead insist that these companies invest greater resources into content moderation and provide greater transparency about any AI-enabled censorship,” she said.

As a platform, LinkedIn occupies a niche area. It’s a professional platform that is also social in every way. Many people—recruiters, bosses, colleagues, clients, freelancers, small businesses, even prospective bride/grooms—look up LinkedIn to gauge a person’s worth. 

In my case, LinkedIn did restore my account after I approached them for a quote for this very story. In fact, it happened quite rapidly and smoothly. “Our Trust & Safety Team reviewed your appeal and found that there was no violation of our Terms and Conditions. We have now removed the restriction on your account,” they emailed me. “We are deeply sorry for the inconvenience caused by this issue.” 

The fact that I got a positive response when I reached out to them as a media person as opposed to my earlier attempts as a layperson wasn’t lost on me. So what happened to the “number and/or gravity” of “violations” that caused my account to be “permanently restricted?” 


They replied, “We won’t always get it right; and when we don’t, we’ll do a second review, take responsibility for our mistake and reinstate content.” An admittance of fault is welcome but this was not reassuring, having experienced their earlier treatment of my appeals. If they had not restored my account, I could’ve lost out on several work opportunities. 

At this point, for civil society and the government, digital censorship by social media platforms looks like an enormous challenge. But technology could also be the salvation and as Mukhopadhya explained, investment in better technology for content moderation seems like a viable path forward. 

Subtle or overt government pressures also nudge these giants into real action as we saw in the U.S. In 2018, when Facebook came under intense criticism from the U.S. Congress for its censorship practises, the company was quick to change their moderation practices. They instituted an appeals process and increased transparency in its moderation process. 

LinkedIn informed me that a new update increasing transparency about the reported content had been rolled out worldwide at the end of 2020. But considering people like Malpani continue to fight the legal fight which in most countries, is a messy, frustratingly long and expensive process, this might just be too little, too late. 

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