Facebook! Previously a global communication tool for its 2 billion users, it’s now what your distant uncle uses to stay in your life. While it has (many) faults, it’s also a marvel of technology. It’s powered by an algorithm that, allegedly, is supposed to give you the most relevant content and for much of its users, it does just that. From minion memes to Russian troll farms, Facebook’s greatest feat—and biggest flaw—has been its equalizing of content. For the most part, this works. Although over the July 4th holiday this very algorithm found the U.S. Declaration of Independence to be racist.
The Liberty County Vindicator, a small community newspaper for the town of Liberty, outside of Houston, TX, had been posting the Declaration of Independence in serialized posts on their Facebook page and part 10 was subsequentially taken down by the Facebook algorithm due to the phrase “merciless Indian savages.” This is, admittedly, quite a harsh and terrible phrase to see in 2018, but is in the original document and the rough draft. Jefferson’s original draft actually had a whole section which railed against slavery.
The Facebook post was subsequentially put back up after what appeared to be a human review of the situation. The paper’s Editor, Casey Stinnett, wrote in a lengthy op-ed published on the paper’s standalone website: “Perhaps had Thomas Jefferson written it as ‘Native Americans at a challenging stage of cultural development’ that would have been better… Unfortunately, Jefferson, like most British colonists of his day, did not hold an entirely friendly view of Native Americans.”
Facebook’s algorithm has also deleted famous war photography, mentions of police brutality against people of color, and, perhaps tellingly, articles about how to thwart the Facebook algorithm itself.