I was browsing through Facebook today, when suddenly a post caught my eye. It was the page of a local park that I know posts almost exclusively in French. This time it was only in English. ‘Huh’, I thought, and kept scrolling.
A few moments later it occurred to me what was happening. Facebook’s translate feature (something that has been helping me decipher status updates of old university buddies from all around the world for the last few years) has now been integrated as an automatic feature. In one fell swoop, my newsfeed was reduced to a single language. Initially, I felt annoyed, like Facebook was somehow implying that my life would be easier if there weren’t multiple languages cluttering up the page.
A quick Google search enabled me to turn off the feature, and Facebook does indeed include the option to list several languages that you understand and do not want translated. Interestingly, when I searched for “Facebook automatic translation”, almost all of the front-page results were giving instructions on how to turn it off; clearly, the masses are not huge fans.
At the end of the day, it’s no big deal. I’ve turned it off and my newsfeed is back to being the mixture of languages that I’m used to and in fact that I intended it to be; for a long time, Facebook has been a useful platform for staying in touch with people and practicing my language skills.
But still, it surprised me that Facebook’s assumption was that the majority of users would want everything to be translated into the language they have selected for their account. It seems to be a strikingly unilingual attitude towards what I imagine to be a hugely multilingual user base.
Did you notice the change to your newsfeed? What was your reaction?