The U.S. government is using free online translation tools such as Google Translate to investigate the social media posts of refugees.

The International Refugee Assistance Project has a copy of the manual used by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which claimed that free online translation tools are the "most efficient approach to translate foreign language contents." There was even an image that shows step-by-step instructions on how to use Google Translate.

The Trouble With Google Translate

Anyone who has ever used these free online translation tools knows that they can be inaccurate. That is because, according to language experts, online translation tools are not designed to understand and translate nuances and local slangs.

"It's naive on the part of government officials to do that," explained Douglas Hofstadter, professor of cognitive science and comparative literature, to ProPublica. "I find it deeply disheartening and stupid and shortsighted, personally." 

Google has warned that despite efforts to improve the accuracy of its translations, Google Translate is not perfect. The company added that the free online translation tool is not meant to replace human translators.

When asked about the use of free online translation tools, USCIS spokesperson Jessica Collins said in an e-mail to ProPublica that it is "common sense" to review publicly available social media data to strengthen the country's vetting process. The USCIS, however, stated that the information collected from social media will not be the basis of the decision to deny or accept refugees.

US To Screen Refugees' Social Media

The Trump administration has expanded the role that social media plays in the screening process for anyone who wants to enter the United States. Nearly all applicants for visas are required to submit their social media handles, previous e-mail addresses, and phone numbers for vetting.

In the previous fiscal year, the USCIS screened 11,740 social media accounts.

Last month, reports claimed that the Department of Homeland Security will ramp up its social media screening. Anyone who is applying for immigration benefits and foreign travels to the United States will be requested to surrender accounts on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Reddit, LinkedIn, Ask.FM, and Weibo to make sure that the individual does not pose a risk to law enforcement and national security.

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