When you use a translation service online you expect it to be accurate. Facebook, however, has learned first-hand what the repercussions of wrongly translated words can do.
The limitations of modern translation technology are evidently still present. This was made all too clear when Facebook's translation tech changed Chinese President Xi Jinping's name to "Mr. Shithole".
Translating from Burmese into English appears to be trickier than Facebook expected.
"Technical issue" to blame
Upon realizing the error, Facebook apologized for the unfortunate mistake by blaming the issue on a "technical issue."
Umm. Facebook seems to be translating “Xi Jinping” written in Burmese as “Mr Shithole”.— Poppy McPherson (@poppymcp) January 18, 2020
This is a post on Aung San Suu Kyi’s official page, recounting her meeting with him yesterday... h/t @felizysolo
”kingdom of Mr Shithole” pic.twitter.com/B4V2cYjPJw
It appears that it didn't have Mr. Xi Jinping's name in its database, so when it came to translating his name it made a wild guess. It turns out that other words beginning with "xi", or "shi" translated into "shithole", too.
Facebook told Reuters that it was going to "fix this as quickly as possible."
As a matter of comparison, when the Chinese leader's name was put into Google, its translation engine didn't suffer a similarly embarrassing fate.
"Mr Shithole, President of China arrives at 4 PM," said a translated announcement posted earlier Saturday. https://t.co/F0tlX0t4Dv— Rappler (@rapplerdotcom) January 19, 2020
President Xi was visiting Myanmar and met with State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi. A post relating to the visit was posted on Suu Kyi's official Facebook page — with many references to her visit with "Mr. Shithole," when translated into English.
It's all well and fine to laugh at this comical slip-up, however, it also highlights Facebook's problems addressing the anti-Muslim violence in Myanmar. There was a past case where a Burmese post on the site called for genocide, a comment which was mistakenly translated as "I shouldn't have a rainbow in Myanmar."
Facebook issued an apology after a translation error left Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s name as “Mr. Shithole”. https://t.co/QxIW9sGi29— Nathan Attrill 周雷森 (@nathanattrill) January 18, 2020
This goes to show that aside from saving themselves from embarrassment, proper translation technology could help document and minimize hateful words and potentially horrible acts from occurring.