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Facebook’s algorithm labels grandmother as “hateful” over photos of her knitted pigs

AI gone haywire.
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81-year-old Australia based retired teacher Rita Rich-Mulcahy has been accused of hate speech and warned she would be permanently banned by Facebook’s overzealous censorship machinery because of her comments about – knitted pigs.

After losing her husband last year, Rich-Mulcahy created a Facebook page and joined a group dedicated to her hobby, knitting. Specifically, Rich-Mulcahy likes to knit woolen pigs – but because she left a comment on a picture of rabbits that referred to them as “white pigs,” and posting a caption reading, “high-viz pigs” to one of the photos she took of her own knitted pigs, she nearly got kicked off Facebook.

Rich-Mulcahy, who says that she is a known “porcophile” i.e., a person who likes pigs to everyone frequenting her page and the knitting group, believes that the threat of censorship was made because of the giant’s flawed automated moderation system; nevertheless, she took the baseless slur of having used “hate speech” personally.

“It may seem a small thing to most people, but to someone who had never even had an overdue library book, being charged with using hate speech was frightening,” reports quote the retired teacher, originally from the UK.

Rich-Mulcahy’s intention while joining Facebook had been the exact opposite of experiencing stress and dismay: she was looking to connect with a like-minded community of knitters as a way of coping with the death of her husband, and sell her woolen creations for a good cause – to contribute to The Smith Family charity, which helps disadvantaged children get education.

And even though she is certain that “a bot trawling” the platform mistook her comments for hate speech, it remains unclear what in those comments might have triggered such a response.

Facebook was, as usual, not helpful in explaining what exactly happened, and whether the comment removal and the warning of a permanent ban came through automated content filtering.

The giant only issued a statement announcing that the two comments had been reinstated, admitting that its systems “sometimes” make mistakes, and patting itself on the back for allowing censored users to appeal against such decisions.

For now, Rich-Mulcahy’s page is safe and she continues to march towards her goal of knitting 100 pigs for charity and promoting this effort on Facebook.

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