Insights January 11, 2021

How the translation industry can help fight fake news

Living Word
By Living Word

Fake news manipulates information and can heavily influence behavior, such as who we vote for, what we buy and what we believe, among other things. That’s why it’s been argued that the upholding of democracy relies on the detection and prevention of fake news.

On an individual level, we should all be cautious and learn to spot fake news. The key takeaway here is to always question information from unknown sources. If you receive information on WhatsApp, for example, ask yourself whether you can actually track down the source. If not, might it be fake news? Luckily, there are some helpful websites out there to help with fact-checking of information. In the UK, fullfact.org is a great place to start.

Machine translation: friend or foe?

While the main task of translators is to aid strong communication, it can be argued that the industry should also help to detect false information. When information from reliable sources gets translated, it must be done accurately, and translators make sure of that. But in the race to get new information out there before someone else does and it suddenly becomes old news, some journalists prefer to take advantage of machine translation systems as they translate content more quickly than humans can. And yet, machine translation and artificial intelligence have been identified as two of the core issues in the spread of misinformation. To combat the spread of false information and fake news, opt for human translators – or at the very least, invest in post-editing of machine translations before publishing them.

What linguists and translation agencies can do

Take Covid-19 as an example. It’s absolutely essential that new information about the virus gets translated correctly. That’s why organisations like Translators Without Borders are currently working on translating, analysing and monitoring social media content so that pandemic-related misinformation can be kept at a minimum.

But there’s some positive news with regards to machine learning and artificial intelligence too. Anti-fake-news algorithms, for instance, are currently being worked on to help combat the spread of fake news. While the translation industry is already deeply involved in machine learning processes and utilises it in a multitude of ways (think localisation efforts, website translations and so on), it is also working hard to make machine translations generate and detect more natural language. Doesn’t it make sense, then, for the translation industry to use its expertise and knowledge of language to develop software and algorithms not only to verify accurate information, but also to safeguard the truth in translation?