Facebook's flood of languages leave it struggling to monitor content

NAIROBI/SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Facebook Inc’s struggles with hate speech and other types of problematic content are being hampered by the company’s inability to keep up with a flood of new languages as mobile phones bring social media to every corner of the globe.

The company offers its 2.3 billion users features such as menus and prompts in 111 different languages, deemed to be officially supported. Reuters has found another 31 widely spoken languages on Facebook that do not have official support.

Detailed rules known as “community standards,” which bar users from posting offensive material including hate speech and celebrations of violence, were translated in only 41 languages out of the 111 supported as of early March, Reuters found.

Facebook’s 15,000-strong content moderation workforce speaks about 50 tongues, though the company said it hires professional translators when needed. Automated tools for identifying hate speech work in about 30.

Reuters Graphic

The language deficit complicates Facebook’s battle to rein in harmful content and the damage it can cause, including to the company itself. Countries including Australia, Singapore and the UK are now threatening harsh new regulations, punishable by steep fines or jail time for executives, if it fails to promptly remove objectionable posts.

Reuters Graphic

The community standards are updated monthly and run to about 9,400 words in English.

Monika Bickert, the Facebook vice president in charge of the standards, has previously told Reuters that they were “a heavy lift to translate into all those different languages.”

A Facebook spokeswoman said this week the rules are translated case by case depending on whether a language has a critical mass of usage and whether Facebook is a primary information source for speakers. The spokeswoman said there was no specific number for critical mass.

She said among priorities for translations are Khmer, the official language in Cambodia, and Sinhala, the dominant language in Sri Lanka, where the government blocked Facebook this week to stem rumors about devastating Easter Sunday bombings.

A Reuters report found last year that hate speech on Facebook that helped foster ethnic cleansing in Myanmar went unchecked in part because the company was slow to add moderation tools and staff for the local language.

Facebook says it now offers the rules in Burmese and has more than 100 speakers of the language among its workforce.

The spokeswoman said Facebook’s efforts to protect people from harmful content had “a level of language investment that surpasses most any technology company.

An illustration photo shows the Facebook page displayed on a mobile phone internet browser held in front of a computer screen at a cyber-cafe in downtown Nairobi, Kenya April 18, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer

But human rights officials say Facebook is in jeopardy of a repeat of the Myanmar problems in other strife-torn nations where its language capabilities have not kept up with the impact of social media.

“These are supposed to be the rules of the road and both customers and regulators should insist social media platforms make the rules known and effectively police them,” said Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia Division. “Failure to do so opens the door to serious abuses.”


Mohammed Saneem, the supervisor of elections in Fiji, said he felt the impact of the language gap during elections in the South Pacific nation in November last year. Racist comments proliferated on Facebook in Fijian, which the social network does not support. Saneem said he dedicated a staffer to emailing posts and translations to a Facebook employee in Singapore to seek removals.

Facebook said it did not request translations, and it gave Reuters a post-election letter from Saneem praising its “timely and effective assistance.”

Saneem told Reuters that he valued the help but had expected pro-active measures from Facebook.

“If they are allowing users to post in their language, there should be guidelines available in the same language,” he said.

Similar issues abound in African nations such as Ethiopia, where deadly ethnic clashes among a population of 107 million have been accompanied by ugly Facebook content. Much of it is in Amharic, a language supported by Facebook. But Amharic users looking up rules get them in English.

At least 652 million people worldwide speak languages supported by Facebook but where rules are not translated, according to data from language encyclopedia Ethnologue. Another 230 million or more speak one of the 31 languages that do not have official support.

Facebook uses automated software as a key defense against prohibited content. Developed using a type of artificial intelligence known as machine learning, these tools identify hate speech in about 30 languages and “terrorist propaganda” in 19, the company said.

Machine learning requires massive volumes of data to train computers, and a scarcity of text in other languages presents a challenge in rapidly growing the tools, Guy Rosen, the Facebook vice president who oversees automated policy enforcement, has told Reuters.


Beyond the automation and a few official fact-checkers, Facebook relies on users to report problematic content. That creates a major issue where community standards are not understood or even known to exist.

Ebele Okobi, Facebook’s director of public policy for Africa, told Reuters in March that the continent had the world’s lowest rates of user reporting.

“A lot of people don’t even know that there are community standards,” Okobi said.

Facebook has bought radio advertisements in Nigeria and worked with local organizations to change that, she said. It also has held talks with African education officials to introduce social media etiquette into the curriculum, she said.

Simultaneously, Facebook is partnering with wireless carriers and other groups to expand internet access in countries including Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo where it has yet to officially support widely-used languages such as Luganda and Kituba. Asked this week about the expansions without language support, Facebook declined to comment.

The company announced in February it would soon have its first 100 sub-Saharan Africa-based content moderators at an outsourcing facility in Nairobi. They will join existing teams in reviewing content in Somali, Oromo and other languages.

But the community standards are not translated into Somali or Oromo. Posts in Somali from last year celebrating the al-Shabaab militant group remained on Facebook for months despite a ban on glorifying organizations or acts that Facebook designates as terrorist.

“Disbelievers and apostates, die with your anger,” read one post seen by Reuters this month that praised the killing of a Sufi cleric.

After Reuters inquired about the post, Facebook said it took down the author’s account because it violated policies.


Posts in Amharic reviewed by Reuters this month attacked the Oromo and Tigray ethnic populations in vicious terms that clearly violated Facebook’s ban on discussing ethnic groups using “violent or dehumanizing speech, statements of inferiority, or calls for exclusion.”

Facebook removed the two posts Reuters inquired about. The company added that it had erred in allowing one of them, from December 2017, to remain online following an earlier user report.

For officials such as Saneem in Fiji, Facebook’s efforts to improve content moderation and language support are painfully slow. Saneem said he warned Facebook months in advance of the election in the archipelago of 900,000 people. Most of them use Facebook, with half writing in English and half in Fijian, he estimated.

“Social media has the ability to completely derail an election,” Saneem said.

Other social media companies face the same problem to varying degrees.

Facebook-owned Instagram said its 1,179-word community guidelines are in 30 out of 51 languages offered to users. WhatsApp, owned by Facebook as well, has terms in nine of 58 supported languages, Reuters found.

Alphabet Inc’s YouTube presents community guidelines in 40 of 80 available languages, Reuters found. Twitter Inc’s rules are in 37 of 47 supported languages, and Snap Inc’s in 13 out of 21.

“A lot of misinformation gets spread around and the problem with the content publishers is the reluctance to deal with it,” Saneem said. “They do owe a duty of care. “

This post originally appeared on Reuters.com

Translation error sees ASDA supermarket mistakenly offer free alcohol to customers

The sign was supposed to guide shoppers to

The sign was supposed to guide shoppers to Credit: Wales News Service

A translation blunder at a supermarket caused it to accidentally promise free alcohol to customers.

The sign was supposed to guide shoppers to “alcohol-free beer” at the Asda supermarket in Cwmbran.

But translators on the beer aisle wrote “alcohol am ddim” – meaning alcohol for free – instead of the correct Welsh of “di-alcohol” for alcohol-free beer.

Guto Aaron, who spotted the sign, said: “Get yourself to Asda, according to their dodgy Welsh translations they are giving away free alcohol!”

The sign was taken down and the store clarified there was no “free alcohol” available.

An Asda spokesman said: “We would like to thank our eagle eyed customers for spotting this mistake, we hold our hands up and will be changing the signs in our Cwmbran store straight away.

“Whilst there won’t be free alcohol in stores this Easter weekend, we still have some cracking deals for our customers.”
This post originally appeared on Itv.com

15 Stats & Facts on Why Localization Is About Global Survival

Our ability to understand other cultures and communicate with people across the globe in their native tongues enables us to make the most of our ventures into new markets. To better understand the growing importance of localization in today’s interconnected world, we’ve compiled stunning stats and facts that will make you reconsider your global growth strategy.

World languages are fundamental to our increasingly interconnected global community. Our ability to understand other cultures and communicate with people across the globe in their native tongues enables us to make the most of our ventures into new markets. In this new world order, the rise of world languages is causing English to fall into decline. There are over 7,000 languages in the world, but only 23 are the mother tongues of 4 billion people. That’s over half of the world’s population. The prevalence of world languages and the gradual decline of English can be attributed to the economic growth of other countries. For instance, China has always represented a huge potential market because of its sheer size. Now, it’s stepping up into the spotlight and gaining an important role on the global stage. Several other regions in Asia, Africa, and Oceania are increasingly projecting their influence in the global digital landscape. And this is not where the story ends… why localization 

Stunning Stats & Facts on Localization

To get a solid grasp of why localization is crucial to surviving in today’s interconnected business world, we’ve compiled critical stats and facts that will make you reconsider your global growth strategy.

Chinese is the most (natively) spoken language in the world

English is the largest language in the world if we count both native and non-native speakers. However, Chinese has the most number of first-language speakers, with about 1.3 billion native speakers concentrated in the country.

49% of the world’s internet users are in Asia

About 4.2 billion people in the world are now online, and around 2 billion internet users come from Asia. So, if you want to dip your toes in international waters to reach more people, you should consider navigating towards the Asian markets.

7 of the 10 top markets by iOS downloads and 9 of the 10 top markets by Google Play downloads are non-native English markets

Non-native English markets dominate both the iOS and Google Play charts for app downloads. Meanwhile, mature markets such as the US continue to see consistent numbers, but growth has slowed in the past few years.

More than 50% of all queries on Google are in languages other than English

Internet usage has been growing at a staggering rate in non-native English-speaking countries. Search engines have also evolved dramatically over the years to accommodate linguistically diverse audiences who are responsible for over half of all Google queries that are performed in languages other than English.

China claims to have over 800 million internet users, while the US has approximately 300 million

Approximately 802 million people in China now have access to the internet, roughly 98% of whom are mobile users. That means their internet population is now larger than the combined populations of the US, Mexico, Russia, and Japan!

China’s “Going Out” strategy drives the need for translation in international exchange

Thanks to the country’s “Going Out” strategy, the translation market in China is growing in importance. Software translation and localization are expected to facilitate the development of the nation’s economy, politics, and culture in this new world order.

China is the world’s largest app market

China accounts for nearly 50% of app downloads across iOS and Android. About $1 out of every $4 produced from these app stores are generated by the Chinese market.

About 72.1% of internet users prefer to dwell on websites translated in their native language

Although most of the content on the internet is in English, many internet users don’t speak or read the language. About 72.1% of internet users are more likely to stay on your website if you translate content in their native tongue.

Even among people with high proficiency in English, 60.6% prefer to browse the World Wide Web in their native language

It’s not only non-English speakers who prefer to surf the internet using their mother tongue. Even 60.6% of people with high proficiency in English would rather look up something online in their native language.

Around 90% of online shoppers choose their native language when it’s available

If businesses intend to improve sales, translating and localizing content into other languages would make a great start. After all, 90% of consumers would always choose their mother tongue whenever the option is available.

Nearly 75% of internet users prefer to read product information in their native language

In the digital era, businesses should realize the potential of translating information in different languages. You can reach more people given that 75% of consumers would rather read product information in their native tongue.

78% of online shoppers are more likely to make a purchase on online stores that are localized

Businesses that sell products or services in English to non-native English speakers have a better chance of converting the majority online shoppers if their website is localized instead.

44% of internet users in the European Union feel they are missing important information when webpages aren’t translated in a language they understand

Translating and localizing content will help you build trust with your audience. In the EU, 44% of people can’t quite trust websites offering content in a language other than their first, fearing that they might miss crucial information.

In Sweden – which has one of the world’s best non-native English speakers – over 80% of online shoppers prefer to make a purchase in their own language

Even Swedes, one of the nations with the highest proficiency in English among non-native speakers, prefer to shop online using Swedish. To gain the trust and loyalty of your audience, you have to personalize the content based on their preferences, including language preferences.

Internet markets in Africa and Oceania are on the rise

Companies who are looking to engage with new audiences should explore Africa and Asia-Pacific regions, as they are home to many emerging markets.

Get a Strong Localization Tool for Strong Results

These stunning stats and facts make it obvious that your company’s capacity to survive and thrive on the global stage lies in your ability to embrace new cultures and languages. Adapting your product to new markets through localization will not only expand your customer base but will also drive growth and profitability.

To get strong results, you should consider employing a strong localization tool. Phrase enables a streamlined localization process in which engineers, product managers, and translators work with greater efficiency and absolute clarity. Sign up for a 14-day free trial now and see how easy and effective localization can be.

This post originally appeared on Phrase.com