Dear Detroit Free Press: Did You Add Racist Language to Your Facebook Live Stream?

Jun 4, 2020
3:41 PM

Editor’s note: On Thursday afternoon, Latino Rebels received the following letter from One Michigan. We have also adjusted the headline of the original story after getting a response from the Detroit Free Press, who is neither confirming or denying that such a post was made at this time. The newspaper did note that it was still gathering more information about whether or not this text was posted on its live stream.

Samantha Magdaleno
One Michigan for the Immigrant Rights
1920 Scotten Ave.
Detroit, MI

Detroit Free Press
160 W. Fort St.
Detroit, MI

June 4, 2020

Dear editors of the Detroit Free Press,

It has come to our concern that the manager of the Detroit Free Press Facebook page posted a very racist and vile post directed at the greater Latino community yesterday. The picture in the post exhibited a caravan of people protesting the murder of George Floyd with an accompanying caption that read: “For all the white washed latinos, they’re chanting no killer cops, no ICE! So, y’all can stfu already trying to cause division among people of color.”

Apart from asking for a much deserved explanation for Latino and migrant communities at large that have also experienced their fair share of differential policing and structural racism in this country through institutions like ICE, we would like to explain why this is wrong to ensure that this NEVER happens again.

First, you are a news outlet. You have a duty to report objectively. While we are well aware of the racism that routinely hides behind the veils of “objectivity,” we understand that minimally, a reporter should try to be as objective as possible.

Second, while objectivity is important, we DO know that there are normative predispositions that guide the work of journalists. One of these predispositions is giving a voice to the unheard. Reporting accurately about the grievances of the communities you serve requires not only that you take their grievances seriously but that you attempt to understand the objective and subjective realities that bring people to vociferously denounce the injustices they experience. With this post, you have failed to do both.

And third, concerning the voices of the unheard, the Detroit Free Press needs to recognize the power it wields as an organization. If someone from the organization attempts to publicly minimize our credible and lived experiences that constantly threaten our right to life in this country, you are not only purposely looking to support systematic racism, you are a credible threat to our lives.

It is for these reasons and many more, that we ask that you give the Latino and greater immigrant community in this country a well-deserved explanation of why you or anyone in your organization thought it was a good idea to post such racist and vile content on your page.

We will wait for your response.


The Latino community

UPDATE: Latino Rebels contacted the Detroit Free Press and asked about the letter and the claims. Here is that exchange:

In addition, Latino Rebels has learned that the Detroit Free Press is still looking into the matter and promised to reconnect with One Michigan in a few days to update them. So far, according to One Michigan and the phone call it had with Detroit Free Press on Thursday afternoon, the newspaper told One Michigan that they have found no proof of the text coming from them or the editing history they have access to does not show a change. The Detroit Free Press did not provide proof of the editing history or say if it reported an alleged impostor account to Facebook.

UPDATE, June 7, 2020, 9 p.m. ET

On June 6, Latino Rebels sent specific questions to the Detroit Free Press asking about whether it has proof of the claims saying that the photo was fake or from an imposter account. LR also asked if the newspaper had reported the post to Facebook and if it spoke with the person who posted the screen grab. On June 7, the Detroit Free Press sent the following statement:

“We are investigating the post in the screen grab in every possible way, within the Detroit Free Press and with Facebook. We are in the process of talking with every employee who has the ability to post as the Free Press’ Facebook account. We are examining every electronic record that is available to us. We have asked for Facebook’s assistance in learning the origin of the post in the screenshot and for any additional information they have.  We have communicated with the person who took the screen grab to learn more about what she saw on her Facebook Watch feed that evening, and have updated her on the steps we’re taking in this investigation. We plan to communicate what we learn with full transparency. We are disgusted that anyone would write what was written in the screen grab, and we’re disturbed that anyone would present that as coming from the Free Press.”

UPDATE, June 12, 2020, 4 p.m. ET

The Detroit Free Press shared the following statement with Latino Rebels:

On Thursday, June 4, Free Press management learned of a screenshot of a Facebook post with racist language that looked like it was coming from the Free Press’ Facebook page. The language was offensive and would be troubling, at the very least, to anyone who could see it. It appeared to target members of the Latino community. We were shocked by the language and disturbed that anyone would present that language, particularly in the Free Press’ name. If this came from anyone at the Free Press, it would demand swift and strong disciplinary action.

The screenshot showed the language atop a Free Press video from the evening of June 3rd’s protests against police brutality in Detroit. It appeared in a Facebook Watch Feed, above what looks like an unrelated video.

Upon learning of the screenshot, we looked at everything we could immediately access behind the scenes of the Free Press’ Facebook page to determine whether it came from the Free Press’ official account.

Through that initial review, we found no evidence that this message came from the Free Press. We answered all who asked about this that we believed it did not come from the Free Press and we believed it to be some sort of manipulated post. After reviewing our response, the leader of One Michigan for Immigrant Rights, which had shared the screenshot, criticized us for suggesting the post didn’t come from the Free Press before a full investigation was conducted. We accept that criticism. We had not stopped investigating, as this warranted a complete inquiry. We took action to determine whether the post came from anyone at the Free Press. Our investigation included:

  • Examining every record available to us from Facebook
  • Communicating with the person who shared the screenshot to learn more about what she saw
  • Communicating with Facebook to seek additional information about the alleged post
  • Closely reviewing CrowdTangle, which captures every Free Press Facebook post, including deleted posts
  • Talking to every employee here who has access to the page. We asked about their specific
    activities on Facebook on Wednesday, June 3 regarding the livestream video or any other Free
    Press posts that day, and whether they knew anything about the alleged post.
  • Reaching out to our social media partners at Gannett, the Free Press’ parent company, for their expertise.

From our investigation, we are confident that this language and post did not come from the Free Press’ official Facebook page or from anyone at the Detroit Free Press. Here’s what we learned:

  • The CrowdTangle application crawls every Free Press Facebook post, including deleted posts,
    which sit in CrowdTangle’s system for at least several days before disappearing. If this was a
    post that someone intended to put on, for example, a personal page, but accidentally posted on
    the Free Press’ Facebook page and then deleted, it would appear in CrowdTangle for a period of
    time. This alleged post was not visible in CrowdTangle the morning after the screenshot
  • From our interviews, no one with access to the page had knowledge of the alleged post. Their activities that evening would not have caused that language to appear in the Free Press’ name.
    Facebook initially told us the post was fake and didn’t come from the Free Press, but we still had questions, including whether the chatter on the video had been edited. In addition, Facebook subsequently told us two more times that the post was fake or manipulated.
  • The video that appeared in the screenshot was a livestream video of protests taken on June 3. We attempted to look at the video’s edit history. But we didn’t have the option to see its edit history. We asked Facebook for the video’s edit history. A Facebook representative told us that there would be an option to view the video’s edit history only if the language atop the video had been edited.
  • We confirmed what the Facebook representative told us by going back one day to June 2 when we knew that the chatter of a livestream video had been edited. That video offered us the option to view its edit history. But the June 3 livestream video did not. This leads us to conclude that the language on the Free Press’ June 3 evening live stream had not been edited.
  • We join those deeply disturbed by the words on this screenshot. We wish we had the answer as to how this was generated. But after examining this to the fullest extent possible, all we can say for certain is that the alleged post did not originate from the Free Press.