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Facebook apologizes for translating Chinese president’s name to ‘Mr. Sh*thole’

The company blamed the incident on a 'technical issue.'


Alexandra Samuels


Posted on Jan 20, 2020   Updated on May 19, 2021, 5:26 pm CDT

Facebook issued an apology after Chinese President Xi Jinping’s name appeared as “Mr. Shithole” when translated from Burmese to English.  

The error was first noticed earlier this week by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the de facto civilian leader of Myanmar, the New York Times reports. A post about the president’s visit was posted on her official Facebook page and contained references to “Mr. Shithole” when translated to English.

Google’s translation function did not show the same error, Reuters previously reported.

In a statement, Facebook said its system didn’t have the president’s name in its Burmese database, leaving the site to guess the translation. Testing the translation of similar words beginning with “xi” and “shi” gave the same “shithole” results, Facebook said, according to the New York Post.

“We fixed a technical issue that caused incorrect translations from Burmese to English on Facebook,” Facebook said.

“This should not have happened and we are taking steps to ensure it doesn’t happen again,” the company added. “We sincerely apologize for the offense this has caused.”

Kenneth Wong, a Burmese language instructor at the University of California, Berkely, told the Times that he understood why a machine could’ve made the translation error. Wong said that Xi’s name sound similar to “chi kyin phyin,” which roughly translates to “feces hole buttocks” in Burmese. 

According to Gizmodo, the “shithole” incident is the latest hiccup in Facebook’s somewhat curious relationship with China.

While Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerburg has been critical of China, the company is dedicating more resources to its Chinese advertising business.


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*First Published: Jan 20, 2020, 9:45 am CST