Twitter’s trial-run translation is pressed into service for Egypt turmoil

Tahrir Square graffiti.
Tahrir Square graffiti.
Image: REUTERS/Steve Crisp
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Where there is political activism, there is Twitter. The popular microblogging platform was widely credited with accelerating the downfall of Hosni Mubarak in 2011. Now it has allowed users around the world to follow the removal of another Egyptian leader with the help of a new trial-run translation service.

Twitter enabled tweet translations for a selection of Egypt’s most followed Arabic-language users on Wednesday, including ousted president Mohamed Morsi and opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei. The Microsoft Bing-powered service was enabled “so people around the world can better understand and keep up with what’s happening” in Egypt, Twitter said in a statement. (Twitter had acknowledged testing a translation service last year.)

Indeed, when historians record the downfall of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood leader, they will have to go to Twitter in order to do so—with the closure of four Egyptian TV channels during the take-over and no physical means of stopping the military, Morsi’s communication options were reduced to posting social media updates. His @EgyPresidency account persevered to the end, repeatedly urging the Egyptian people to “uphold the law & the Constitution” and condemning the take-over as a coup. The military used its Facebook page in much the same way and international media broke news based on their messages.

With Morsi being held by the military and @EgyPresidency fallen silent, one wonders whether Twitter will reset the password.