Facebook’s program thinks Declaration of Independence is hate speech - The Vindicator: News

Posted: Monday, July 2, 2018 4:46 pm | Updated: 8:06 pm, Tue Jul 3, 2018.

UPDATE: Earlier this evening, July 3, the good folks at Facebook restored the post that is the subject of this article. An email from Facebook came in a little after The Vindicator’s office closed today and says the following:

“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 Vindicator extends its thanks to Facebook. We never doubted Facebook would fix it, but neither did we doubt the usefulness of our fussing about it a little.


Somewhere in paragraphs 27-31 of the Declaration of Independence Thomas Jefferson wrote something that Facebook finds offensive. 

Leading up to Independence Day, The Vindicator challenged its Facebook followers to read the Declaration of Independence. To make it a little easier to digest that short but formidable historic document, the newspaper broke the Declaration down into 12 small bites and one to post each morning from June 24 to July 4.

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.” 

Facebook’s notice then asked The Vindicator to review the contents of its page and remove anything that does not comply with Facebook’s policies. 

The offending passage of the Declaration reads as follows:

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.

While The Vindicator cannot be certain exactly what triggered Facebook’s filtering program, the editor suspects it was most likely the phrase “Indian Savages.”

Perhaps had Thomas Jefferson written it as “Native Americans at a challenging stage of cultural development” that would have been better. Unfortunately, Jefferson, like most British colonists of his day, did not hold an entirely friendly view of Native Americans. 

Although, to be honest, there is a good deal in that passage that could be thought hateful.

The removal of the post was an automated action. If any human being working at Facebook were to review it, no doubt the post would be allowed, and the editor has searched for a means of contacting Facebook for an explanation or a opportunity to appeal the post’s removal, but it does not appear the folks at Facebook want anyone contacting them. Or, at least, they do not make it easy. The Vindicator has sent Facebook a feedback message. That being the only way found so far to contact the company.

According to an article by Facebook Vice President of Global Policy Management Monika Bickert posted to newsroom.fb.com April 24, over the coming year Facebook is “going to build out the ability for people to appeal our decisions.” The first part of which is to provide a means by which users can request additional review of a decision by Facebook to remove a photo, video or post because Facebook found it violated their community standards.

However, no such review request option appeared on Facebook’s notice to The Vindicator.

While unhappy with Facebook’s action, the editor reminds readers that Facebook is a business corporation, not the government, and as such it is allowed to restrict use of its services as long as those restrictions do not violate any laws. Plus, The Vindicator is using Facebook for free, so the newspaper has little grounds for complaint other than the silliness of it.

The problem The Vindicator faces is that it has become dependent, perhaps too dependent, on Facebook to communicate with local residents and to promote the newspaper. Some Vindicator stories posted on thevindicator.com 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.

So, 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. 

This is frustrating, but your editor is a historian, and to enjoy the study of history a person must love irony. It is a very great irony that the words of Thomas Jefferson should now be censored in America. 

http://www.thevindicator.com/news/article_556e1014-7e41-11e8-a85e-ab264c30e973.html