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Lost in Translation: Indignation as Facebook Labels Swedish Party 'Nazis'

© REUTERS / Anders Wiklund/TT News AgencySweden Democrats Party leader Jimmie Akesson in Stockholm, Sweden (File)
Sweden Democrats Party leader Jimmie Akesson in Stockholm, Sweden (File) - Sputnik International
Social media giant Facebook has come under fire from Sweden after it transpired that its automatic translation tool renders the word "sverigedemokrat" (member of the Sweden Democrats party) as "Nazi" into English.

In the home arena, the right-wing Sweden Democrats, in effect the country's only opposition party, often get labeled as xenophobic, racist and even borderline Nazi due to its anti-immigration stance. Whereas the party describes itself as "social conservative with a nationalist foundation," any allegation of this sort is the last thing it needs.

Therefore, it is no surprise that Facebook's automatic translation of "Sweden Democrat" as "Nazi" led to an outcry in Sweden as erroneous renditions like "proud Nazi" are more than likely to raise eyebrows abroad. Remarkably, other variants involving the Sweden Democrats, such as the party name or abbreviations like SD, are not translated at all, which contributes to a yet more slanted picture.

​Automatic translation of posts into different languages was launched by Facebook in October 2011 in collaboration with Microsoft's Bing. Last spring, however, Facebook broke off its collaboration with Microsoft to instead rely on a self-developed translation tool. In contrast, Bing still translates "sverigedemokrat" as "Sweden Democrat."

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Facebook's current translation service is reportedly based on artificial intelligence and a supplementary "learning" mechanism, where users can contribute by rating translations and offering better words and expressions.

Nicole Ekstam, editor of the site Politikfakta, blamed the erroneous translation on political activism.

"It must be leftist activists who tricked Facebook's automatic translation," Ekstam told the Swedish news outlet Samhällsnytt.

SD profile Nasrin Sjögren was very upset about Facebook's actions.

"Nazi is a common female name in Iran. But in the Swedish context it is beyond all decency to distort facts and lie so brutally in what should represent a neutral translation," Sjögren said.

Incorrect translations are known to appear after a variant has been suggested by enough people, a mechanism which sometimes leads to unforeseen situations. Earlier this month, a Palestinian man was suspected of preparing a terrorist act after uploading a picture of himself posing next to a bulldozer with the words "Good Morning" written in Arabic. However, since Facebook incorrectly translated the caption as "attack them" into Hebrew and "hurt them" into English, the man was apprehended until an Arabic-speaking policeman clarified the mistake.

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Fronted by Jimmie Åkesson since 2006, the Sweden Democrats made their debut in parliament in 2010 and have continued growing ever since, despite their rivals' coordinated efforts to isolate them with a cross-party alliance. In October 2016, the slander campaign reached new heights as none other than Prime Minister Stefan Löfven labeled the SD as "Nazis," yet retracted his statement shortly afterward following threats of a lawsuit.

Although Swedish politicians and left-wing journalists spare no effort to portray the SD as racists, about 14 percent of SD members are of immigrant origin, which roughly corresponds to the proportion of foreign-born residents in Sweden.

​Meanwhile, SD leader Jimmie Åkesson remains convinced that his country will eventually get a Sweden Democrat Prime Minister in the none too distant future, as his party has consistently polled over 20 percent in recent months.

​(An election poster by the SD. Caption: "We are the only party that seeks to stop illegal immigrants' access to Swedish welfare").

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