In the run-up to the 4th of July, a small Texas newspaper called the Vindicator decided to encourage its readers to read through the Declaration of Independence by breaking it up into 12 smaller segments on its Facebook page. However, Facebook’s automated system for detecting “hate speech” was apparently triggered by one section and removed it. From the Vindicator:
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 actual post, which Facebook has since restored:
The Vindicator again this year challenges readers to read through the Declaration of Independence. This year we offer it to readers here in small bites, one a day until July 4th.
Part 10 (continuing the colonists’ complaints about King George III):
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’s managing editor said he didn’t know what triggered Facebook’s algorithm but suggested it is probably the phrase “Indian Savages” in the last paragraph. He adds, “to be honest, there is a good deal in that passage that could be thought hateful.” But he also realized that if he continued to post the last two sections of the Declaration and Facebook was triggered a second time, the paper’s Facebook page would likely be shut down for good.
Fortunately, the following day Facebook reversed itself. An update on the Vindicator story says they received a message from the company which read, “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.”
Despite what happened, the Vindicator argued even before the reversal that Facebook was a private company and was free to limit the use of its platform as it saw fit. “The Vindicator is using Facebook for free, so the newspaper has little grounds for complaint other than the silliness of it,” the editor wrote.
The use of the phrase “Indian Savages” certainly does have an unpleasant ring to it 240 years later, but that doesn’t make the idea of having a left-leaning corporate behemoth take on the role of language police for our history (and current events) any more appealing.