Facebook’s algorithms have ruled that parts of the US Declaration of Independence are hate speech and removed excerpts of them posted to the platform. In the run-up to Independence Day, a US community paper based in Texas had been posting small daily chunks of the historic document on its Facebook page. At issue was a part of it that referred to “merciless Indian savages”. Facebook later apologised and allowed the posting. The Liberty County Vindicator had been sharing excerpts from America’s founding document to its Facebook page in an attempt to encourage historical literacy among its readers.
Part 10 did not appear, with the paper receiving a notice from Facebook saying the post went against its standards on hate speech. Editor Casey Stinnett wrote afterwards of the offending paragraph: “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.” The newspaper later confirmed that Facebook had had a change of heart and apologized. “It looks like we made a mistake and removed something you posted on Facebook that didn’t go against our community standards,” the company told the Vindicator.
“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.” In a blogpost, assistant editor of political magazine Reason Christian Britschgi said the decision demonstrated the problem with automated searches for hate speech. “A robot trained to spot politically incorrect language isn’t smart enough to detect when that language is part of a historically significant document,” he said.