Hi! Welcome! Now that you’re all good and riled up and angry clicked on this link… it’s time to disappoint you. Sorry.
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No, Facebook does not think, “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” is hate speech. Nor do they think expressing classic, timeless American values is suddenly hateful because of the man in office who is currently appropriating them.
All that really happened was Facebook’s automatic filters flagged a post by The Vindicator, a Texas newspaper that was posting the Declaration of Independence to Facebook in short bits for the lead up to the Fourth of July.
From The Vindicator:
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 section that Facebook flagged, as it so happens, actually makes some sense for a computer to read as offensive. Though the paper was never explicitly told what part of their post got them in trouble, The Vindicator’s managing editor, Casey Stinnett, believes it was the following:
“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.”
Yeah, okay. “Indian Savages” probably set off some alarms.
The real issue here, as is usually the case with any issue, is far less insidious and far more boring than what it initially appeared to be. No, Facebook doesn’t hate America. It’s just that Facebook’s auto filters apparently lack quite a bit of nuance.
For a society that communicates hundreds of millions of times a day, through text, on that platform, that is definitely problematic. If this unbelievably massive avenue of communication, that insists on policing the communications it facilitates, has basic contextual issues like this, how can it tell when someone is being facetious? Or sarcastic? Or using “hateful” language (whatever that may entail) as a form of artistic expression? Or to prove a point?
That is the problem. (One of many.) Though, admittedly, it is way less interesting than, “Mark Zuckerberg is a sixth cousin, twice removed, of the Rothschilds and is obviously part of a secret New World Order plot against American freedoms. He sealed his participation in the plot by eating a baby on a stone altar in the forest back in 2002.”
For their part, The Vindicator didn’t freak out over the mistaken censorship, but they weren’t thrilled about it either.
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.
But “Facebook again proves it needs to do better” isn’t a headline that would get a lot of clicks… on Facebook.