Sep 23, 2015

All your ISIS are belong to us: we’re fighting terrorism with bad Google translations

A Twitter account counteracting the lies propagated by Islamic State sounds useful -- except the tweets are gobbledygook. Freelance journalist Jason Murphy explains.

Islamic State is awful. Their campaign to win territory in the Middle East is destroying lives, ruining priceless antiquities and making the world worse for a long time to come. It makes sense to use any and all means to push back. Especially low-cost, non-violent means. We learned this week the Australian government is using Twitter to fight IS (also called ISIS or Daesh), and that makes sense. IS has an extremely adept social media strategy. We should counter them on their own turf. If a government Twitter account can even prevent one young person from taking up arms, it will have been money well spent. So the @fight_DAESH account could be a good thing. The account, run by the Australian Defence Force, tweets in English and in Arabic. Or so it seems to the average English speaker. But here’s the thing. It turns out the “Arabic” tweets are barely Arabic at all. They’re just a jumble of Arabic vocabulary -- the words, and frequently the phrases, are correct but, taken as a sentence, make little grammatical sense, as numerous Arabic speakers have confirmed.

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8 thoughts on “All your ISIS are belong to us: we’re fighting terrorism with bad Google translations

  1. thelorikeet

    Well, it is even worse – not only are there some 300 million Arabic native speakers worldwide, but it is both an official and working language of the UN General Assembly since 1973.

    Where has Defence been these past 42 years? That’s long enough to breed two generations of Arabic speakers specifically for the purpose!

  2. [email protected]

    I have built a English, Farsi and Arabic language web site, and I had a difficult time of it (not speaking or reading that latter two languages). Using standard copy-past functions from Left-to-Right text documents to the Right-to-Left text web pages caused the word order in the text to become scrambled. So whist I sympathise with Defence a little bit, surely they can afford to hire a IT specialist in multi-language environments as well as a Arabic speaker.

  3. James O'Neill

    Not just defence that needs to lift its game in reporting on ISIL. That includes Crikey. Rather than devoting precious space to trivial stories such as misadventures in Arabic why doesn’t Crikey address the real issues about the Syrian war? Stop pretending that Abbott’s death cult arose spontaneously. It is first and foremost a creature of the Americans and their misguided and tragic policies in the Middle East. If you do not have any in house journalists who understand the area and what is actually happening, then may I respectfully suggest you commission people who do. Enough of the sideshows.

  4. AR

    Duhh… “Does a culture of secrecy mean standards can slip to the floor without the slightest repercussion” – rhetorical question surely?
    That is the almost the entire function – protecting the incompetents who claim to be doing magic things protecting us with woofle dust and are so danged good at it that they constantly need more & more secrecy and powers coz they are doing such a great job…

  5. Mike Smith

    Really? Does anyone here make changes in their life of that extent based on what they read on Facebook and Twitter? I’d suggest the government not continue to waste our money on this ineptly thought out project.

  6. Peter Rayitch

    Is it that the ADF would rather employ an Adam or a Mike who is well-versed in Google Translate rather than an Ahmed or a Mahmoud who can actually do the job?

  7. JMNO

    But why is Defence running this campaign and why is it targeting Arabic speakers? I have seen some of the ISIS propaganda and it is very well done. It is in the languages of the potential foreign fighters it is trying to target, so English would be the way to go for the young men (and possibly women) in Australia who might be susceptible to its lures. A number of people who have been drawn in by ISIS propaganda from around the world have not been Arabic-speakers and some not even Muslim.

  8. ken svay

    For at least twenty years I have been lamenting the fact that we could have been the honest brother in the Middle East with our huge pool of middle eastern people . I have also wondered for many years just how many speakers of middle Esteban languages we have in our security apparatus- any at all?
    It’s a disgrace and a betrayal of taxpayers that we don’t have this expertise in our ranks, It’s like the army trying to train Afghanis and Iraqis, it’s complete bollocks if they can’t communicate with the m in their language. Anyone with half a brain can learn a foreign language in five years, I have done it as an old man. For a youngster it’s easy, I have friends trained by the US Armt to speak Asian languages, it took four years.

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