They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but it only took two of them for a Palestinian man to find himself being placed under arrest after a Facebook translation blunder.
A construction worker for the West Bank settlement of Beitar Illit took a photo of himself posing with a bulldozer. Along with the photo, the construction worker captioned his selfie with “good morning.” Facebook’s translator service, however, misinterpreted the sentiment and instead read the phrase as stating “hurt them” in English and “attack them” in Hebrew.
Within hours of the post, Israeli police placed the man under arrest after receiving reports. None of the Arabic-speaking officers read the post prior to the man’s arrest. Police interrogated the man, believing he was plotting to use the bulldozer in the photo as part of a strategic lone-wolf attack against Israelis. Police soon realized the mistake and released the construction worker, according to Haaretz, an Israeli newspaper.
The tech blog Gizmodo reached out to Facebook about the blunder. Necip Fazil Ayan, who is purported to be an engineering manager for Facebook’s language technologies group, responded with the following statement:
“Unfortunately, our translation systems made an error last week that misinterpreted what this individual posted. Even though our translations are getting better each day, mistakes like these might happen from time to time and we’ve taken steps to address this particular issue. We apologize to him and his family for the mistake and the disruption this caused.”
The Guardian explains that Arabic can be particularly difficult to translate due to the sheer number of dialects that are used throughout the world. AI translation mistakes are common, especially when asked to translate specific words in unrelated languages.