Facebook says it was working to find out how Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s name appeared as “Mr. S***hole” in posts on its platform when translated into English from Burmese. Facebook apologed for any offence caused and saying the problem had been fixed.
The error came to light on the second day of a visit by the president Xi Jinping’s to Myanmar. Xi and state counselor Aung San Suu Kyi have signed dozens of agreements covering massive China-backed infrastructure plans.
A statement about the visit published on Suu Kyi’s official Facebook page was littered with references to “Mr Shithole” when translated to English. While a headline in local news journal the Irrawaddy appeared as “Dinner honors president shithole”.
It was not clear how long the issue lasted but Google’s translation function did not show the same error.
“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 apologize for the offense this has caused,” Facebook said in a statement, Reuters reports.
The Facebook system did not have President Xi Jinping’s name in its Burmese database. The system guessed at the translation, the company said. Translation tests of similar words that start with “xi” and “shi” in Burmese also produced “shithole”, it added. China’s foreign ministry declined comment.
Past Facebook translation issues
Facebook is blocked in mainland China. But it is not blocked in Hong Kong and mainland companies advertise elsewhere on the platform. Making China Facebook’s biggest country for revenue after the United States.
Facebook has faced numerous problems with translation from Burmese in the past. In 2018 it temporarily removed the function after a Reuters report showed the tool was producing bizarre results.
An investigation also documented how the company was failing in its efforts to combat vitriolic Burmese language posts about Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims. Some 730,000 of whom fled a military crackdown in 2017 that the U.N has said was conducted with “genocidal intent”.
It also showed the translation feature was flawed, citing an Anti-Rohingya post. Advocating killing Muslims that was translated into English as “I shouldn’t have a rainbow in Myanmar”.