Facebook finds parts of Declaration of Independence to be “hate speech” and “racist”, removes them

July 5, 2018 • 9:30 am

To be fair, the hate speech appears to have been detected and removed by a robot analyzer, but shouldn’t some human check content before they remove it? Facebook did, however, later allow the impure parts of the Declaration of Independence to be posted. From the BBC (click on screenshot):

Here’s the story (my emphasis):

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.

[Vindicator] 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 apologised.

“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 apologise 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.

For the Vindicator’s account of what happened, go here.

Yes, Facebook apologized and restored the document, but perhaps that wouldn’t have happened had the offending words not been part of an important historical document.The sad thing is that if this wasn’t part of the Declaration of Independence, but perhaps a quote from Laura Ingalls Wilder, Facebook might have continued the ban. After all, hate speech is hate speech, even if it reflects mores no longer held, and why should the Declaration of Independence be exempt? I can easily seeing that quote triggering people, as similar quotes did when they came from Little House on the Prairie.

h/t: Grania

46 thoughts on “Facebook finds parts of Declaration of Independence to be “hate speech” and “racist”, removes them

  1. We can call it whatever they like, hate speech with trigger warning or adjusted for your viewing displeasure. What it all is can be called simply censorship. Unless that word is no longer in fashion, I don’t want to offend anyone.

    They should see the draft of the thing before the rest of the group edited out all the crazy stuff Jefferson put in there, like blaming the King for slavery.

  2. Can big tech companies just admit that using scripted algorithms to moderate content has been an endless string of embarrassments and failures and it might be time to just give up on the idea and employ some actual humans (and hold them accountable)?

    No, I really doubt it. They’ve got sunk costs to justify.

      1. You know you can still use scripts to flag content for review, you don’t need to manually comb through every line of text every user types.

        It’s empowering the robots to take direct action that’s getting them into trouble.

  3. In the 19th century “savages,” although it has other connotations, was I believe the accepted anthropological term for hunter-gathers.

    1. “savage” like “negro” and others was never meant as a racial slur. It *acquired* that as people went from descriptive to moralizing (or to ridiculously bad descriptions).

      1. Correct, I think. “Noble savage” was a commonly used term, I believe (and not seen as either ironic or an oxymoron).

        OTOH, “merciless Indian savages” is definitely derogatory.


    2. “Savages we call them, because their manners differ from ours, which we think the perfection of civility; they think the same of theirs.”

      -Benjamin Franklin

      1. I think most in those days were ‘racist’, that quote from Mr Franklin is a kind of unusual exception. Mr Franklin was kinda exceptional altogether.
        I mean, what we would call ‘racism’ now, was just a given then.

  4. Not coincidentally, we had our semi-annual viewing of 1776 last night (“At at a time in life when other men prosper, I’m reduced to living in Philadelphia”). Of course, the movie/musical is not literal history, and the process of writing and approving the Declaration is lost to History. It does emphasize what was undoubtedly part of the process: compromise. Here we have a group of people trying to move forward constructively towards a goal that they all shared, by identifying what united them, rather than fixating on what separated them. Too many have lost sight of the need for compromise in order to maintain civil society, and of the pitfalls of its dissolution.

    This Facebook thing is hilarious, and what’s meant by “You can’t make this stuff up.” Really, though, Facebook is censoring speech not otherwise prohibited under US law. That’s the issue.

    1. Farcebook (and Tw*tter, and Youboob) are virtually *required* to censor stuff that is not prohibited by law. Or face a shitstorm of protest from the perpetually offended of all persuasions.

      They just can’t win.


  5. In the Capitol Rotunda, there is a famous painting by John Trumbull which shows the 1776 presentation of the Declaration of Independence to the Continental Congress. A portion of the painting appears to this day on $2 bills, if any are still around. All the figures in the painting are white men, thus violating our contemporary summum bonum of diversity. Even worse, some of them were undeniably slave-holders. A campaign to remove the painting, both from the Capitol Rotunda and the $2 bill, will begin shortly.

    1. That’d be ridiculous.

      Still, ya gotta give props to the affirmative-action program white dudes had put in place for themselves in those days. What it lacked in fairness, it sure made up for in ruthless efficiency.

    2. A portion of the painting appears to this day on $2 bills, if any are still around

      Oh, they are still around. I used to visit a grocery store that prided itself on giving them out with your change. I wouldn’t panic so soon, I imagine they’ll stay around plenty long.

    3. Hey, the Trumbull painting is an improvement. The $2 bill used to picture the slave plantation, Monticello. And I occasionally get $2’s from my bank, and spend them when I am out of $1’s. Heck, I even sometimes get out one of my old “Red Seal” $2’s – the ones with Monticello on the back – and spend them. [The red seal indicated it was a United States Note – our original Federal currency dating from the Civil War – rather than a “Green Seal” Federal Reserve Note. The US Notes were finally withdrawn from circulation a few years back.] Yes, I could sell those red seals on eBay for about $4 each, but I figure someone will get a kick out of finding a red seal in circulation, and that’s worth a couple of bucks to me.

  6. Is it odd that face book would be attempting to edit the Declaration but seemed not to mind that hundreds of Russians were invading their platform and probably still are. Who are they working for, Trump?

    1. Last thing I heard, Facebook purported to be international, not restricted to US citizens only.

      Or have I misunderstood your comment?


  7. After all, hate speech is hate speech, even if it reflects mores no longer held…

    Assuming of course that ‘hate speech’ is a special thing needing special attention.

    I’d argue that the push back against the Control Left starts with stripping phrases with ‘special meanings’ away from normal discussion because acknowledging and using such phrases buys into the mindset of the groups proposing the special meanings.

    1. Maybe in our discussions here with mostly like-thinkers, we can all understand it’s used satirically.

    1. Well, I don’t know about hate speech but there are some members of the left who would object to this passage;

      “In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.”

      We are getting to the “by any means necessary” phase of the fight against what Trump stands for. We could really use a guy like MLK. Without the goddities, though.

      1. I wish Black Lives Matter would read that quote. Same for Antifa. Hell, everyone who claims to be a liberal should read that, should LIVE by that. It’s far more inspiring than No Justice No Peace or Punch a Nazi.

  8. Reminds me of last year when NPR tweeted out the Declaration of Independence and people thought things like:

    So, NPR is calling for revolution.
    Interesting way to condone the violence while trying to sound “patriotic”.
    Your implications are clear.

    And those were humans, not robots.

  9. If it were possible for us to go back in time to be present when the Declaration of Independence was being worked on and discussed by men holding divergent views, I have no doubt that we’d be shocked and, perhaps, offended. However, they were able to
    focus on areas of agreement and get things done. We no longer seem to have that ability.

  10. Some of it is offensive and does hurt. But censoring is not the answer. We need to remember our history in all its ugliness.

  11. Usually, if you are going to see good grammar, it’s in a newspaper where humans still do a lot (most?) of the editing. I especially expect to see good grammar in their mastheads since they have plenty of time to compose them and they appear every day. So can anybody help me with this from the Vindicator?

    “The oldest continuing printing news source in South Liberty County since 1887”.

    Is it only the oldest from 1887? Or something else? The snark in me notes that Liberty County only has 75k residents and the masthead refers only to South Liberty so they’re really stretching the marketing prose.

  12. Since the subject is speech, it was interesting that the LA Times today had an article about how some are complaining about The Onion going over some sort of line when they joke about the immigrant kids locked up at the border. Personally, I feel it is classic Onion and very funny:

    “Immigrant Child Still Hoping To Achieve American Dream Of Better Cage.”


    1. Makes me want to link (again) to Jonathan Pie’s rant over the ‘Nazi pug-dog’ prosecution – “It was a f*ckin JOKE, ya c*nts!”

      I think Trump’s detention centres for children are appalling, and they deserve every form of condemnation, including the best sarcasm or invective The Onion can muster.


    2. Looking at The Onion’s twitter page and the like to retweet ratio of that particular post most of the general public “got it.”

  13. I can easily seeing that quote triggering people

    This is confusing “triggering” with hate speech, the latter often legally defined.

  14. To be fair, the hate speech appears to have been detected and removed by a robot analyzer, but shouldn’t some human check content before they remove it?

    As much as I dislike this, wouldn’t that defeat the point of automating it?

    1. The idea is for automation to handle most of them with humans only being called in when the automation has trouble with the decision, the decision is very important, or some combination of the two. There are likely escalation levels in both automation (computing resources) and humans (expertise level, estimated time to resolve). Even if deferred to humans, automation can aid the task. When a human is asked to make a decision, search technology probably has done most of the research and is presented in a manner conducive to reaching an accurate decision quickly. Still, I wouldn’t want that job.

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