More like Egg-On-Your-Facebook, amirite?
Facebook is striking an apologetic tone after Burmese text posted on the website showed Chinese President Xi Jinping’s name as “Mr. Shithole” in an English translation. The social network is blaming the error on a tech foul-up.
“We fixed a technical issue that caused incorrect translations from Burmese to English on Facebook. This should not have happened and we are taking steps to ensure it doesn’t happen again. We sincerely apologise for the offence this has caused,” a statement provided to The Guardian reads.
The UK paper goes on to note that Google’s own translation feature doesn’t show the same error. Though it turns out there is an explanation for how exactly this happened.
The issue was discovered over the weekend as the Chinese president met in Myanmar with the country’s state counsellor, Aung San Suu Kyi. When Suu Kyi shared a (since-fixed) statement on her official Facebook page, the English translation featured numerous references to “Mr. Shithole.”
According to Facebook, Xi Jinping’s name didn’t previously appear in the company’s Burmese language database, and so the translation engine took its best shot. The same “shithole” issue would have occurred, Facebook said, translating any word starting with “xi” or “shi” in Burmese.
It’s an unusual situation, and an unfortunate one for Facebook, though the company can point to a history of having issues with Burmese translations. In 2018, the Burmese translation feature was actually removed from the site after a Reuters report highlighted similar issues.
The example cited in the 2018 report points to a post that, in Burmese, reads: “Kill all the kalars that you see in Myanmar; none of them should be left alive.” But the site’s translation feature showed the English version of that phrase as: “I shouldn’t have a rainbow in Myanmar.”
Facebook subsequently confirmed that the translation feature was shut down on Aug. 28, 2018. It’s not clear when Burmese translations were brought back online, but it’s a safe bet that at least a few people at Facebook are regretting it now.