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Turkish pranksters load Facebook Translate with swears

The rudeness of crowds

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Facebook's attempts to crowdsource translations have gone awry in Turkey.

A group of Turkish pranksters banded together to submit bogus translations so that a Facebook IM error message was rendered in Turkish as "Your message could not be sent because of your tiny penis". The correct version should say the message could not be delivered because the intended recipient was offline.

Miscreants abused the official Facebook Translate interface, a crowdsourcing method for improving the linguistic accuracy of the social network site, to vote up alternative and erroneous translation. The same process was used to subvert the Turkish translation for "like" into "fuck".

The linguistic larks were devised on the Inci Sözlük discussion forum, which sounds like Turkey's answer to 4chan.

Rik Ferguson, a security consultant at Trend Micro, reports that Facebook rolled back the unwanted translations on Wednesday. The Facebook Translate application was offline at around the same time for many languages, although it's unclear if this is related to the hijinks down by the Bosphorus.

It seems that the replacement translations were automatically applied without any human double checking. Ferguson concludes that there are lessons to be learned from Facebook's gaffe for other online services.

"Perhaps it is fortunate that the hole has been exposed through a prank in the first instance and not something more nefarious," Ferguson said.

"Any online service, whether it’s translation or reputation services, which solicits user generated content would be well advised to quality check that content before going live with it."

A blog post by Ferguson containing screenshots of the prank messages can be found here. ®

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