I’ve given Facebook and Bing a hard time in the past for their inability to translate anything — indeed, as recently as just this past week — or, at least, translate anything from Hebrew. I can’t speak to their translations into English from all the languages I don’t speak, but I imagine they do a similarly terrible job.
So I’ll consider that ground already covered like Kenji Yoshino — this post exists only to document another instance where their combined futility makes for epic failure. Never trust translations you read on Facebook.
The status in question was posted on the Facebook profile of Tomer Persico, a lecturer at the department for Comparative Religion in Tel-Aviv University (here’s his blog). I’ve never heard of him, but he has nearly 6,000 followers on Facebook, so he’s clearly kind of a big deal in certain circles — and one of them brought the following to my attention:
חשוב לומר: זה לא הטרמפים, זה לא המגורים בשטחים, זה אפילו לא הכיבוש. אין הצדקה לטרור. בשום מצב, בשום תנאי. אין
Here’s how Google handles that:
It is important to say that this is not hitchhiking, it’s not living in the territories, it is not even the occupation. There is no justification for terrorism. Under any circumstances, under any conditions. No.
For those of you who don’t follow Israel-related headlines too closely, he’s talking about the three Israeli teenagers who were kidnapped Thursday night while hitchhiking in the West Bank.
I included Google’s take both to introduce the topic/some necessary background, and provide a reasonable translation of the status for those who don’t speak Hebrew. But Google Translate doesn’t handle that task for Facebook; as you may have gathered from the opening paragraph, Bing does. And here’s what Microsoft got out of what Tomer had to say (screenshot here):
It is important to say: it’s not hitchhike, it’s not living in the occupied territories, it is the occupation. There is no justification for terrorism. In any situation, in any condition. Void.
There’s certainly what to nitpick when it comes to bizarre word choices like “Void.” But if you didn’t catch what Bing butchered, go back and compare what the two translations think Persico had to say about the occupation. Whether or not you think Microsoft’s translation speaks the truth, that’s not at all what Tomer said. Whoops.
Incidentally, this is not the first time Microsoft has waded into the Middle East conflict.