Twitter has made waves in the past few days by launching an experimental new service for some users: automatically translated tweets.
It’s currently possible to translate a tweet in a foreign language by clicking on a “translate” option. But some Twitter users in Brazil will now see all of the tweets in their feed automatically translated into Brazilian Portuguese, whether they asked for the translation or not.
The idea behind the automatic translation is for users to save time by not having to manually translate tweets. But there are some important details the social media platform’s higher-ups don’t seem to have considered.
For one, bi- or multi-lingual people may not always need tweets to be translated. And those who love languages and enjoy being exposed to ones they may not understand, will have to work to get that thrill.
On an even more problematic level, Twitter’s machine translations may not be accurate. In fact, it’s almost certain that there will be errors for many tweets.
AI can often translate correctly when it comes to commonplace words and phrases used in expected ways, but it can’t pick up on nuance or on things like humor and local expressions.
It makes you wonder how tweets that include new words or concepts, unusual slang, or jokes and commentary on world events could possibly be translated. And, of course, many tweets are made up of just that kind of content.
You could say that these inevitably incorrect translations could spread misinformation or censor original thoughts.
Hopefully, if enough Brazilian Twitter users click on a translated tweet to read it in its original version, Twitter will think twice about rolling out a modification that seems to make us closer but really only risks putting more distance between a tweet’s author and those who read it.
Read on to learn more about Twitter’s automatic translations.