Facebook apologises for threatening to ban 81-year-old knitter for ‘hate speech’

An elderly British widow was threatened with a permanent ban from Facebook after the social media platform mistook her posts about knitting woollen pigs as ‘hate speech’.

Eighty-one-year-old Rita Rich-Mulcahy, who lives in a retirement village south of Adelaide, Australia, challenged herself to knit 100 five-inch pigs for charity after the death of her husband. 

But after sharing photos of her creations on the social media site and innocently responding to friends’ comments Facebook issued her with two warnings.

A friend posted: ‘white rabbits, white rabbits’ on 1 February and she responded: ‘No, white pigs, white pigs!’. That earned her the first ‘hate speech’ warning.

Eighty-one-year-old Rita Rich-Mulcahy, who lives in a retirement village south of Adelaide, Australia, challenged herself to knit 100 pigs for charity after the death of her husband

Eighty-one-year-old Rita Rich-Mulcahy, who lives in a retirement village south of Adelaide, Australia, challenged herself to knit 100 pigs for charity after the death of her husband

Eighty-one-year-old Rita Rich-Mulcahy, who lives in a retirement village south of Adelaide, Australia, challenged herself to knit 100 pigs for charity after the death of her husband

Then she posted a picture of a ‘hi-viz piggy’. That earned her a second warning. A third warning could leave her with a permanent ban.

‘Now I have two strikes against me with no way to appeal. So the bot will watch everything I type now. It is ludicrous,’ said Ms Rich-Mulcahy, originally from Coalbrookdale, Shropshire.

Her Facebook page is devoted to the woollen pigs she knits.

Mrs Rich-Mulcahy said: ‘Facebook obviously use a bot to trawl around Facebook and I had made two comments, totally innocent, which the bot saw as hate speech.

If I ditch Facebook I would lose my great connection with my Shropshire friends.’

Mrs Rich-Mulcahy's Facebook page is devoted to the woollen pigs she knits (pictured)

Mrs Rich-Mulcahy's Facebook page is devoted to the woollen pigs she knits (pictured)

Mrs Rich-Mulcahy’s Facebook page is devoted to the woollen pigs she knits (pictured)

Here 'hi-viz piggy' can be seen speaking through a megaphone. The post earned her a second warning. A third warning could leave her with a permanent ban

Here 'hi-viz piggy' can be seen speaking through a megaphone. The post earned her a second warning. A third warning could leave her with a permanent ban

Here ‘hi-viz piggy’ can be seen speaking through a megaphone. The post earned her a second warning. A third warning could leave her with a permanent ban

But in a twist to the tale, Facebook says: ‘Our systems made a mistake here and the comments have now been reinstated. We do sometimes make mistakes when reviewing content, which is why we give people the opportunity to appeal against our decisions.’

Mrs Rich-Mulcahy, who hails originally from Coalbrookdale and is the daughter of a former Mayor of the Borough of Wenlock, Joe Rich (Joseph Rich Avenue in Madeley is named in his honour) emigrated to Australia to teach European languages and art in 1965.

‘I married John Mulcahy, an engineer, here in Oz. He passed away a year ago. I joined a knitting group on Facebook when I lost my husband as a way of dealing with my grief and set myself a target of knitting 100 small pigs, each being a play on pig-related words, as in Pigcasso, Francis Bacon, Hamlet, Hamplify, and so on. I am up to 79! The series is called pigtales and I call the pigs Wittyknits.’

Here a knitted woollen pig called 'Hamadeus', clutching a roll of sheet music and a baton

Here a knitted woollen pig called 'Hamadeus', clutching a roll of sheet music and a baton

Here a knitted woollen pig called ‘Hamadeus’, clutching a roll of sheet music and a baton

She plans to show the five-inch high woollen pigs to raise money for The Smith Family, a charity which helps disadvantaged Australian children to create better futures through education.

Mrs Rich-Mulcahy, who lived in Strethill Road and later Woodside, Coalbrookdale, added: ‘I have always loved pigs and grew up next door to a field of pigs owned by neighbour, Joe Cox the milkman. I always drew pigs when a little child.’

After her posts were restored by Facebook, she added: ‘You have made an old lady very happy today. 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.’

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