In the week leading up to the Fourth of July, a small Texas newspaper, The Vindicator, started posting excerpts from the United States Declaration of Independence as a celebration of America’s de facto birthday. This seemingly innocuous celebration of America went smoothly… until parts of post number ten were blocked from the paper’s Facebook feed as hate speech.
According The Vindicator’s own op-ed, they assumed the block was for an especially illiberal passage which reads, “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.”
Which… yeesh. That’s not exactly a shining example of the Founding Father’s views on the indigenous people of the Americas.
Facebook has been working to right their ship after several failures in addressing foreign manipulation of news, ads, and pervasive problems with white nationalists. In doing so, they enacted a 25-page outline on how to deal with issues of outright hate on their site. It boils down to identifying “a direct attack (defined as violent or dehumanizing speech) on people based on what we call protected characteristics – race, ethnicity, national origin, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, sex, gender, gender identity and serious disability or disease.”
Facebook currently employs 15,000 people to filter through their user-posted content to catch anyone who might be breaking those guidelines. It would seem that The Vindicator fell into that category by using words written by Thomas Jefferson and edited by the Continental Congress back in 1776. It’s worth noting that Jefferson’s original draft was cut down by nearly 75 percent, yet they still managed to keep in the “Merciless Indian Savages” passage.
Facebook reached out to The Vindicator and apologized for their mistake. Facebook told Vice News via email that “the post was removed by mistake and restored as soon as we looked into it.” The email continued, “we process millions of reports each week, and sometimes we get things wrong.”
Was it wrong though? It’s 2018 and we have to ask ourselves how much longer do we get to ignore the glaring crimes and overt racism of our forefathers? Is Facebook actually pointing out a truth we (and they) don’t want to reckon with? By identifying hate speech in the present will that empowers us to come to grips with the horrific costs of the Founding Father’s actual actions? Clearly, the words of the United States Declaration of Independence contain naked hate speech. So where does that leave us? Do we continue to bury our heads in the sand and pretend everything was great and brimming with national heroes or do we finally reckon with the darkness of our past?
(Via Vice News)