Facebook has apologized after its platform wrongly translated Xi Jinping, the name of the Chinese leader, from Burmese to an offensive English word.
The company became aware of the mistranslation when Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the defacto civilian leader of Myanmar, took to Facebook to write about Mr. Xi’s two-day visit to her country, The Guardian reports.
The posts were written in Burmese, and when they were translated to English, Mr. Xi’s name read as “Mr. Shithole.” According to Reuters, Google’s translation function didn’t make the same error.
A Facebook spokesman, Andy Stone, apologized for the glitch on Saturday. “We fixed a technical issue that caused incorrect translations from Burmese to English on Facebook,” Mr. Stone said, per The Guardian. “This should not have happened and we are taking steps to ensure it doesn’t happen again.”
The Facebook system didn’t have Xi Jinping’s name in its Burmese database, so it took a guess at the translation. Translation tests of similar words that begin with “xi” and “shi” also were interpreted as “shithole.”
Facebook has had many problems with translations from Burmese. In 2018, it momentarily removed the feature when Reuters reported that the tool was generating strange results.
An investigation showed how Facebook was unsuccessful in combating antagonistic Burmese language posts about Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslimes, when around 730,000 of them fled during a military crackdown in 2017 that the U.N. has labeled as having “genocidal intent.” It also proved that the translation function was flawed, pointing to an anti-Rohingya post that supported killing Muslims. The message translated into English at “I shouldn’t have a rainbow in Myanmar.”
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