The Israel Police mistakenly arrested a Palestinian worker last week because they relied on automatic translation software to translate a post he wrote on his Facebook page. The Palestinian was arrested after writing “good morning,” which was misinterpreted; no Arabic-speaking police officer read the post before the man’s arrest.
The Facebook post that mistranslated ’good morning’ to ’hurt them’
Last week, the man posted on his Facebook page a picture from the construction site where he works in the West Bank settlement of Beitar Ilit near Jerusalem. In the picture he is leaning against a bulldozer alongside the caption: “Good morning” in Arabic.
The automatic translation service offered by Facebook uses its own proprietary algorithms. It translated “good morning” as “attack them” in Hebrew and “hurt them” in English.
Arabic speakers explained that English transliteration used by Facebook is not an actual word in Arabic but could look like the verb “to hurt” – even though any Arabic speaker could clearly see the transliteration did not match the translation.
But because of the mistaken translation the Judea and Samaria District police were notified of the post. The police officers were suspicious because the translation accompanied a picture of the man alongside the bulldozer, a vehicle that has been used in the past in hit-and-run terrorist attacks. They suspected he was threatening to carry out such an attack and the police arrested him. After he was questioned, the police realized their mistake and released the man after a few hours.
The Judea and Samaria District police confirmed the details and said a mistake in translation was made, which led to the mistaken arrest. The police agreed the correct translation was “good morning.”
The Palestinian man declined to speak with Haaretz. He removed the post from his Facebook page after the arrest.