Facebook apologises for threat to ban 81-year-old for posts about knitted ‘pigs’

Kate Ng
<p>Rita Rich-Mulcahy, 81, and her late husband John Mulcahy. Facebook has apologised after it attempted to ban the widow over pig-related comments the platform mistook for ‘hate speech’</p> (Rita Rich-Mulcahy/Facebook)

Rita Rich-Mulcahy, 81, and her late husband John Mulcahy. Facebook has apologised after it attempted to ban the widow over pig-related comments the platform mistook for ‘hate speech’

(Rita Rich-Mulcahy/Facebook)

Facebook has apologised after it threatened to permanently ban an elderly woman from the platform, having mistaken her comments about knitted pigs as “hate speech”.

Rita Rich-Mulcahy received two warnings from Facebook after she posted innocent references to the woollen pig dolls she knits on a page dedicated to her creations.

The 81-year-old, who is from Shropshire but migrated to Australia in 1965, set a challenge for herself to knit 100 five-inch woolly pigs for charity following the death of her husband, John Mulcahy.

She told the Shropshire Star: “Facebook obviously use a bot to trawl around Facebook and I had made two comments, totally innocent, which the bot saw as hate speech.”

The first comment was made in response to a friend who posted “white rabbits, white rabbits” on 1 February. Mrs Rich-Mulcahy responded: “No, white pigs, white pigs!”

“Everyone on the knit site and my page knows I am a porcophile,” she explained. “The second time was when I posted a picture and I said ‘hi-viz piggy’.”

She said the second comment earned her “two strikes”, and Facebook had threatened to permanently bar her from the site for “hate speech”.

“So the bot will watch everything I type now. It is ludicrous,” said the widow. “If I ditch Facebook I would lose my great connection with my Shropshire friends.

Facebook has since apologised for the ham-fisted action and restored Mrs Rich-Mulcahy’s posts.

The social media giant said in a statement: “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 decision.”

Mrs Rich-Mulcahy is from Coalbrookdale and the daughter of former mayor of the Borough of Wenlock, Joe Rich. She moved to Australia to teach European languages and art, and married her engineer husband there.

One of Rita Rich-Mulcahy’s woolly pig creationsRita Rich-Mulcahy/Facebook
One of Rita Rich-Mulcahy’s woolly pig creationsRita Rich-Mulcahy/Facebook

Mr Mulcahy died “a year ago”, she said, and she had joined a knitting group on Facebook to deal with her grief.

Her target of knitting 100 pigs and naming them with pig puns - “as in Pigcasso, Francis Bacon, Hamlet, Hamplify, and so on” - has seen her knit 79 of what she calls “Wittyknits”.

She aims to show the pigs to raise money for a charity that helps disadvantaged children in Australia called The Smith Family.

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