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US Declaration of Independence labeled hate speech by Facebook bots

'Sometimes we get things wrong' says The Social Network™, which fixed it in time for Independence Day

UPDATE Facebook’s content-cleansing bots have flagged the United States Declaration of Independence as hate speech.

The Liberty County Vindicator, a newspaper serving Liberty, Texas, posted “small bites” from the Declaration on its Facebook page in the leadup to the USA’s Fourth of July Independence Day, “to make it a little easier to digest that short but formidable historic document.”

But as the paper detailed on July, “the first nine parts posted as scheduled, but part 10, consisting of paragraphs 27-31 of the Declaration, did not appear. Instead, The Vindicator received a notice from Facebook saying that the post ‘goes against our standards on hate speech’.”

Here’s the offending paragraphs:

He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

The Vindicator complained about the removal, but also agreed that some of the offending paragraphs could be construed as hateful. The paper guessed that the term “Indian Savages” was the problem and suggested that "Perhaps had Thomas Jefferson written it as 'Native Americans at a challenging stage of cultural development' that would have been better."

Whatever tripped Facebooks hate-detectors, late on July 3rd the service restored the post, telling the Vindicator “It looks like we made a mistake and removed something you posted on Facebook that didn’t go against our Community Standards. We want to apologize and let you know that we’ve restored your content and removed any blocks on your account related to this incorrect action.”

The incident highlights two things.

Firstly, The Vindicator says the takedown was automated. As Facebook’s pledged to clean up hate speech and fake news with automation, The Social Network™ clearly has work to do to get this right.

Second, The Vindicator wrote that “… the removal of this morning’s post puts The Vindicator in a quandary about whether to continue with posting the final two parts of the Declaration scheduled for tomorrow and Wednesday. Should Facebook find anything in them offensive, The Vindicator could lose its Facebook page.”

And that’s a worry because “Some Vindicator stories … attract thousands of page views, but usually only after links to them are shared on Facebook. Plus, many bits of information are shared by the newspaper through Facebook alone.”

Which shows, again, that Facebook’s decisions can change the fate of a business. And now those decisions are being made by tone-deaf robots.

And meanwhile in India and Sri Lanka, fake news spreading on Facebook platforms is causing riots and murders.

Happy Independence Day to our US-based readers. And good luck dealing with today’s tyrants. ®

UPDATE: Facebook PR kindly sent this comment - “The post was removed by mistake and restored as soon as we looked into it. We process millions of reports each week, and sometimes we get things wrong.”

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