Facebook’s internal tools for flagging abusive content have mistaken the US Declaration of Independence for hate speech, according to reports.
America’s founding document was adopted on 4 July 1776, a date now celebrated as Independence Day in the US.
Excerpts from the declaration were posted on Facebook by The Liberty County Vindicator, a paper in the city of Liberty, Texas, as part of its Independence Day celebrations.
However, Facebook’s automated content moderation systems mistook parts of the famous historical document for hate speech, according to the newspaper.
Specifically flagged were paragraphs 27 through to 31 of the declaration, which detail the complaints the founding fathers have with King George III.
The passage contains racist language, stating: “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.”
Hate speech is banned according to Facebook’s community standards, which defines it as “a direct attack on people based on what we call protected characteristics” such as race, gender or belief.
Although the paper complained about the removal, it did acknowledge that the term “Indian Savages” was problematic.
“Perhaps had Thomas Jefferson written it as ‘Native Americans at a challenging stage of cultural development’ that would have been better,” the paper suggested.
Facebook has since restored the post and apologised, telling the paper: “It looks like we made a mistake and removed something you posted on Facebook that didn’t go against our Community Standards.”
The social media site is used to communicate by billions of people around the world, and its policies have significant impact.
Internal documents leaked last year revealed that Facebook hesitates before deleting images and videos of hate speech and similar upsetting material due to fears of being accused of censorship.
At the time, Monika Bickert, the head of global policy management at Facebook, said: “We work hard to make Facebook as safe as possible while enabling free speech.
“We’re going to make it simpler to report problems to us, faster for our reviewers to determine which posts violate our standards and easier for them to contact law enforcement if someone needs help.”
Sky News has contacted Facebook for comment.