National Archives Website Flags U.S. Constitution with ‘Harmful Language Alert’

Big tech and its moral “alerts” are at it again, and this time it’s against the US Constitution

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Constitution of the United Sates of America
Constitution of the United Sates of America

Big tech and its moral “alerts” are at it again, and this time it’s against the United States Constitution. The archives.org website has been flagged with a “harmful language alert” appearing on many of its pages. The alert then links to a page entitled “NARA’s Statement on Potentially Harmful Content.”

The alert appears at the top of the page, and the linked National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) “statement on potentially harmful content” is described as:

  • reflect racist, sexist, ableist, misogynistic/misogynoir, and xenophobic opinions and attitudes;
  • be discriminatory towards or exclude diverse views on sexuality, gender, religion, and more;
  • include graphic content of historical events such as violent death, medical procedures, crime, wars/terrorist acts, natural disasters, and more;
  • demonstrate bias and exclusion in institutional collecting and digitization policies.

The National Pulse points out, “Bizarrely, the warning does not appear on a page about Jim Crow, which has no fewer than 6 uses of the word “N*gg*r.’ Nor does it appear on a page with the word ‘k*ke.” It does, however, appear on the page with the United States Constitution.

One subparagraph is titled “How is this material described, and why are some of the terms used in the descriptions harmful?”  Lists the following:

  • Archivists choose what language to use when describing materials. Some of these descriptions were written many years ago, using language that was accepted at the time.
  • Archivists often re-use language provided by creators or former owners of the material. This can provide important context, but it can also reflect biases and prejudices.
  • Archivists often use a standardized set of terms, such as the Library of Congress Subject Headings, to describe materials. Some of these terms are outdated, offensive, or insensitive.
  • In the past, the National Archives has not had standards or policies to help archivists avoid harmful language.