For the past two years, social media platforms have been rolling out machine translation in the hopes of enabling multilingual interactions. However, the people interacting in these platforms often know each other already, and have a language in common (i.e., friends). But what happens when machine translation is used to facilitate interactions among strangers, who perhaps have common interests but not a common language?
The earliest social media platform to enable machine translation was probably Facebook, which began autotranslating conversations in Facebook pages (a good place to start given that Pages are more likely to bring together heterogeneous languages). Likewise, Google+ and Twitter later released similar features, enabling, for example, Spanish-speaking Twitter users to read the tweets from the now toppled Egyptian president Muhammad Morsi, translated from Arabic to Spanish:
How often do these types of multilingual interactions occur, though? Ethan Zuckerman posed a similar question when wondering how often people use their browsers’ machine translation to pay attention to content outside their immediate reach.
With that in mind, we decided to look into some numbers using data from our own social media platform: Socl, which started offering machine translation since last year. Socl, like Twitter, often brings strangers together who might not speak the same language, example:
Many thanks to Elena Agapie, James van Eaton, and Bruce Haly, for helping with this post.