Facebook has apologized to an 81-year-old knitting aficionado after nearly banning her from the social media platform when its artificial intelligence system flagged her for hate speech.
According to The New York Post, Rita Rich-Mulcahy of Adelaide, Australia, began knitting stuffed animals to pass the time and distract herself while grieving the death of her husband in 2020. The self-described “porcophile,” a fan of pigs, set up a Facebook page to connect with friends and share photos of her knitted pig figures.
Imagine Rich-Mulcahy’s surprise when she was recently flagged for “hate speech” after captioning an image of her crafts with the phrase “white pigs.”
As someone who has never had so much as “an overdue library book,” Rich-Mulcahy said the incident was “frightening.”
“Facebook obviously used a bot to trawl,” she told the Shropshire Star, a paper from her native England. “I had made two comments, totally innocent, which the bot saw as hate speech.”
“Everyone on the knit site and my page knows I am a porcophile,” Rich-Mulcahy went on, noting that she “always drew pigs” as a little girl growing up next to a farm in Shropshire.
The first occurred on February 1, Rich-Mulcahy claimed, when she corrected a friend who thought she had knit some white rabbits, saying, “No, white pigs, white pigs!”
This month, a post of Rich-Mulcahy’s was removed over its caption, “hi-viz piggy,” for a pig in high visibility safety colors.
Rich-Mulcahy told the paper she feared she “would lose my great connection with my Shropshire friends” if another of her innocent posts or comments was flagged with no avenue for appeal.
Thankfully, a Facebook team member responded to an appeal from Rich-Mulcahy.
“Our systems made a mistake here, and the comments have now been reinstated,” she was reportedly told. “We do sometimes make mistakes when reviewing content, which is why we give people the opportunity to appeal against our decisions.”
I suppose it’s some solace that, had Rich-Mulcahy’s statements not been about her knitting projects, it would appear Facebook is cracking down on slurs against police officers. Regardless of who it targets, however, Facebook’s Orwellian artificial intelligence is bad news.
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