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Facebook Translation Gives Chinese Leader Unfortunate Name

Translates 'Xi Jinping' as 'Mr. Shithole'
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 20, 2020 12:10 PM CST
Myanmar's leader Aung San Suu Kyi, right, and Chinese President Xi Jinping shake hands after the ceremony of signing a memorandum of understanding in Naypyitaw Myanmar, Saturday, Jan. 18, 2020.   (Nyein Chan Naing/Pool Photo via AP)

(Newser) – Chinese President Xi Jinping recently visited Myanmar, and on the second day of his visit, some awkwardness ensued online. A statement about the visit published on the Facebook page of Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi referred to Xi—but when the page was translated to English, his name came through as Mr. Shithole, the Guardian reports. It appears the problem was with Facebook's translation database (a Google translation of the page did not show the same error), and the social media company has since apologized. "We fixed a technical issue that caused incorrect translations from Burmese to English on Facebook," a rep says. "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."

Xi's name was not included in Facebook's Burmese database, so the translation program took a guess: Per Mashable, the company says the same issue would have occurred had any word starting with "xi" and "shi" in Burmese been translated. Mashable adds that Facebook has had issues with Burmese translations before, and actually removed the feature entirely from its website for a period of time starting in 2018. The Guardian notes it wasn't just Suu Kyi's statement that was affected; the headline of a local news article ended up translated as, "Dinner honors president shithole." The New York Times reports China appears to have censored information about the translation error, as no mention of it appears on Chinese news sites or social media. (Read more Xi Jinping stories.)

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