Palestinian Man Arrested In Israel After Facebook Mistranslates Post From “Good Morning” To “Attack Them”

oopsThough it might mean well, Facebook can often cause serious headaches for users around the world. That was the case this week when Israeli police arrested a Palestinian man after Facebook mistranslated his post in Arabic from “good morning” to “attack them.”

The man in question, a Palestinian construction worker, posted a picture of himself posing with a bulldozer with the caption “good morning” in Arabic. However, Facebook’s automatic translation changed it to “attack them” in Hebrew and “hurt them” in English. Police were soon notified of the post, and the man was arrested. (Bulldozers have been used in hit-and-run terrorist attacks before, so police had reason to be suspicious.) But within hours of the arrest, police realized their mistake and let the man go.

While it’s fortunate that the man’s life was not permanently altered by Facebook’s mistake, there are serious questions arising from this incident worth asking. Like: how did Facebook’s translation service make such a dramatic error? And if a mistake this big could happen, what other potential problems could be lurking in the code? It’s difficult to imagine just how much responsibility Facebook bears. After all, one tiny mistake in a translation service led to a man’s real-life arrest. But Facebook needs to own up to its responsibility full-time and ensure incidents like this don’t happen.