US using Google Translate to vet refugees’ social media: report

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U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has instructed agents to use online translation services to review the social media profiles of refugees applying for asylum, according to an internal manual shared by ProPublica on Thursday.

The manual instructs officers who sift through non-English social media posts from refugees that “the most efficient approach to translate foreign language contents is to utilize one of the many free online language translation services provided by Google, Yahoo, Bing, and other search engines.”

{mosads}It also includes step-by-step instructions for how to use Google Translate.

The manual was obtained by the International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP) through a public records request before being shared with ProPublica.

A spokesman for USCIS said t does not exclusively rely on online translation services and “understands” their limitations. 

“U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services understands the limitations of online translation tools,” said spokesman Dan Hetlage. “USCIS follows up with human translators as needed.”

The instruction to use online translation services has raised concerns because of their propensity for error.

Google advises users that its machine translation service is not “intended to replace human translators.”

Language experts told ProPublica that using the services may result in posts being misconstrued and hurting asylum applications.

“It’s naive on the part of government officials to do that,” said Douglas Hofstadter, a professor of cognitive science and comparative literature at Indiana University at Bloomington. “I find it deeply disheartening and stupid and shortsighted, personally.”

USCIS has said that “information collected from social media, by itself, will not be a basis to deny refugee resettlement.”

The manual is undated and was given to IRAP in response to a request for records created on or after Oct. 23, 2017. 

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