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In the lead-up to the Fourth of July holiday, Facebook removed a post containing sections of the Declaration of Independence as hate speech. Stories detailing the incident have been gaining traction ever since, so we decided to examine what happened.
"Facebook removes, censors Declaration of Independence as ‘hate speech,’" said a July 5, 2018, headline from Geller Report, a website run by Pamela Geller, an anti-Muslim activist and commentator.
"It’s not surprising," the story said. "The left hates our freedoms, and so designating the Declaration of Independence, the most magnificent document in all of human history, as hate speech is in line with their agenda. The left means to criminalize lawfulness. The left means to criminalize freedom of speech. The left means to criminalize individual rights. The left means to criminalize Americanism."
What the story does not tell you: Facebook said removing the post was an accident and restored it a day later.
Facebook users flagged this story as part of the company’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)
The Geller Report cited an article from the Guardian, and Geller pointed in an email to multiple other outlets that also reported on the incident, including the Washington Post, USA Today, Fortune and the Independent.
Here’s what happened: In anticipation of July 4, the Liberty County Vindicator, a small local newspaper in Texas, posted sections of the Declaration of Independence to Facebook.
The Vindicator soon received notice from Facebook indicating that one of the posts was removed because it "goes against our standards on hate speech," according to a July 2 write-up from Casey Stinnett, the paper’s managing editor. Stinnett said the section was likely removed for its reference to "merciless Indian savages."
"The removal of the post was an automated action," Stinnett wrote. "If any human being working at Facebook were to review it, no doubt the post would be allowed."
Later, Stinnett updated the article and posted to Facebook to announce that the post had been restored. He said the Vindicator received an email from Facebook that said, "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."
Geller acknowledged in her email that Facebook apologized and restored the post, but her story did not mention the apology or the fix.
"We restored the post and apologized to The Vindicator on July 3 as soon as we saw our error," said Sarah Pollack, a spokesperson for Facebook. "We process millions of reports every week, and sometimes we make mistakes."
This is not the first time Facebook’s censors have removed posts of historical significance. In 2016, Facebook suspended one user’s account after he posted an image of The Terror War, a Pulitzer-prize-winning photograph that depicts a naked girl fleeing a napalm attack during the Vietnam War. The photo, removed as nudity and child porn, was eventually restored.
The Geller Report story had a point that a newspaper’s post of the Declaration of Independence was temporarily removed from Facebook for appearing to violate "hate speech" standards. But the website did not mention that Facebook said it was a mistake and restored the post. It did not censor the entire speech.
We rate this statement Half True.
Geller Report, "Facebook removes, censors Declaration of Independence as ‘hate speech,’" July 5, 2018
The Guardian, "Facebook labels declaration of independence as 'hate speech,’" July 5, 2018
The Liberty County Vindicator, "Facebook’s program thinks Declaration of Independence is hate speech," July 2, 2018
Email interview with Pamela Geller, author of the Geller Report, July 6, 2018
Email interview with Sarah Pollack, spokesperson for Facebook, July 10, 2018
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