Tencent messaging social
Screenshot of WeChat’s translation of flag emojis. (Image credit: TechNode)

Users of Tencent’s messaging app WeChat found a flaw on Tuesday in the iOS version’s translation feature, which renders flag emojis into words, the most remarkable of which swaps the Canadian flag for the phrase, “He’s in prison.”

Why it matters: What may turn out to be a bot-driven glitch has left many users wondering whether the choice of words related to the Canadian flag may be a symptom of deteriorating ties between China and the North American country, which soured following the December 2018 arrest and detention of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou at the request of the US for charges related to violating sanctions against Iran.

Details: Alongside Chinese text, some flag emojis translate into different short English phrases, while others remain as emojis or appear as empty squares.

  • No matter where the Canadian flag is placed in a sentence, it translates into “He’s in prison.” The flag of Panama also returns the same phrase.
  • The translations appear to be random most of the time. The flag of the European Union is translated into “Hey, it’s hot,” whereas that of Brazil is translated into “Oh, my God.”
  • No matter where the flag emoji is placed, it appears as a separate sentence once translated. A sentence starting with “Where am I” in Chinese, followed by the flag of Afghanistan, for instance, renders into “Where am I? In the middle of nowhere” using the tool.

“We are taking immediate action to fix a translation bug on WeChat. We appreciate users who flagged it and would like to apologise for any inconvenience caused.”

—Tencent spokeswoman to TechNode on Tuesday

Context: WeChat’s translation functionality has experienced similar issues March, translating some Chinese names written out in pinyin into nonsensical English phrases.

  • Names for Chinese singers “Kris Wu” and “Caixukun” translated into characters that mean “cute” and “stupid” in Chinese, respectively.

Tony Xu is Shanghai-based tech reporter. Connect with him via e-mail: tony.xu@technode.com

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