Translation of the New Real-time Social Media, by Dina Al-Mahdy


Designed by Graphic Designer Amal Ezzat, Publishing Department, Bibliotheca Alexandrina.

Throughout the twentieth century[1], language boundaries persist in creating a barrier to broaden distribution of content and knowledge. The Internet remains divided by language, with users of most social media sites largely interacting only with those from similar linguistic and cultural backgrounds. As more of the world comes online, the urge for viable interaction online will be even more compelling, yet critical.

The drastic increase in international interaction and population shift resulting from globalization, as well as the dramatic growth of noticeably multicultural communities—not to mention the intercontinental connections and cooperation both evidenced and compelled by events such as recent revolutionary movements in the Arab world or the current global economic crisis—together mean that questions about integration, distinction, and identity have never been more current in our world than they are today. In this global context of intercultural negotiation and exchange, those questions are like a call for us to look more closely at translation, and to consider the broader scope of what it has to offer to modern discussions of identity and its formation.

At the present time, the mass media have played a fundamental constitutive role in the construction of the public opinion in liberal democracies. Both print and electronic media are seen as a critical watchdog over the political regime, as well as a major platform for translating the mobilization of social movements into salient, and ultimately actionable, political statements.

Revolutions in the Arab world have renewed and repolarized debates over the role of the Internet in mobilizations for political and social change. The new forms of media, i.e. the new real-time social media, are considered to have been useful tools in mobilizing and organizing protests—providing alternative channels of communication in a situation where mass media was largely controlled by the regime. The communications shutdown in Egypt neither stopped the protests, nor prevented the protesters from communicating with the outside world. Even during the days when the Internet and phone lines were cut, Bluetooth allowed the protesters in Tahrir Square to exchange messages.

Having played a role that has drawn admiration or rejection from the international society, the new forms of media have augmented the practice of translation and promoted the role of translators—opening up a vast area of exciting comparative work across the boundaries of the multitude of languages available on the Internet.

Technology can facilitate mutual understanding across cultures and continents through translation; however, despite great advances in machine translation and the debate over the viability of computer-assisted translation (CAT), language barriers continue to prevent broader, more networked discourse. Moreover, events of international importance, such as the current uprisings in the Arab world, often trigger a flurry of responses from a wide variety of users in multiple languages, yet most of these conversations and trending topics remain soloed in their own linguistic worlds. The new real-time social translation, therefore, has become compelling, yet challenging.

Nowadays, the new media can provide a much-needed bridge, and are designed to facilitate the new kinds of translation that are happening on the real-time social media websites. For the highly connected Egyptian diaspora, Twitter was a relevant tool and the perfect forum for political satire and internet memes, in which users capture the moment in 140 characters or less. Statistics speak for themselves: 1.5 million Egypt-related tweets in the first week of the 25th of January revolution alone. At present, many activists follow tweets from within Egypt, translate and retweet/share to reach non-Arabic speakers in their network of press contacts and wider audiences via Twitter or Facebook, thus performing a real-time translation which has inspired worldwide translations of the ongoing uprisings to demand change. At other times, they would intervene to offer online comments and critiques of coverage of events in Egypt in the global media, correcting misrepresentations and adding missing contextual information.

According to Ed Bice; Chief Executive Officer of the Meedan, a social technology non-governmental organization, the new social translation projects aim to increase the online exchange of media and dialogue between speakers of multitude languages on the Internet and encourage the creation of new communities around interest areas that might be driven by keywords, hashtags, events, or individuals. These projects are designed to streamline the process of creating, requesting and reviewing real-time translations across the multitude of languages available on the internet, from Arabic to Mandarin to Spanish to English, and beyond.

To him, in our social media era, the role of translators is set to evolve just as dramatically as is the role of the author/journalist. Social media translators have to comprehend the anatomy of tweets and conform to the rules of translating tweets. 

Pic. 1: The Anatomy of an Original Tweet:


 1- If a tweet contains the letters (RT) then it is a retweeted tweet. Sometimes a comment is added to a retweet. In this case the structure of the tweet will be as follows:

“Avatar/ twitter name/ user name [Comment] RT @username [original text]”

2- If the tweet is a reply, the tweet starts with the avatar of the one who is replying, then his/her twitter name, followed by the username of the person who wrote the original tweet preceded by @.

Pic. 2: The Anatomy of a Translated Tweet:

om4Rules of Translating Tweets: 

  1. If you find a tweet that you believe is worth translation, click ‘reply’ to the tweet
  2. In the reply field start with the initials ‘TT’, then translate the original tweet
  3. Begin and end your translation in quotation marks, for example TT “Meeting: In the spirit of ideas worth spreading, TEDx is a program of local,….”.
  4. Include (but do not translate) the original hashtags from the tweet. Usually hashtags are not translated but if you have to, you can add the translation between brackets after the original hashtag.
  5. If you run out of space, use the ellipsis (….) and formality of 1/2 at the end of the first tweet, i.e. Tweet 1 of 2, for example:

TT “Meeting: In the spirit of ideas worth spreading, TEDx is a program of local,….” 1/2 @BA_News_Events.

Then hit reply and begin the next portion of the translation, as follows:

TT “….self-organized events that bring people together to share a TED-like experience.” 2/2 @BA_News_Events

  1. Include shortlinks used in the original tweet. Use if needed to create a shortlink from a full length URL.
  2. Add the translation hashtag after the translated text, for example #ar2en or #en2ar.
  3. Bring all punctuation marks and structure forward. Hyphens, periods and colons are the most used punctuation marks in tweets.
  4. Use a spelling checker; if you find a spelling mistake in the original tweet, make sure whether it is used intentionally or unintentionally. If the word is misspelled intentionally, then leave it; otherwise correct the spelling mistake to avoid confusion.
  5. If the original tweet contains a musical or poetic structure, the best translation should render a rhythmic treatment of the original and then add an annotation for further explanation.
  6. If the tweet is ambiguous, the translator is not required to give explanation.
  7. Adding a glossary is essential when translating tweets.
  8. Add original link from tweet, then the username.
  9. Put @ before the username leaving no spaces between the two. Usernames should not be translated, but if you have to, put the translation between brackets, for example @BA_News_Events (@أخبار_فعاليات_مكتبةالإسكندرية)

As the debate over the viability of machine versus human translation exists, and more of the world comes online, the language barriers continue to prevent more networked discourse, and more conversations and trending topics about integration, distinction, and identity on the new social media websites remain soloed in their own linguistic worlds. Thus, the urge for new social real-time media translation has become more challenging and compelling—encouraging the increase in the range of voices that dialogue together and inspiring worldwide translations of ongoing uprisings in the Arab world. These new forms of media augment the practice of translation and promote the role of translators—increasing the online exchange of media and dialogue between speakers of multitude languages on the Internet, and encouraging the creation of new communities around interest areas that might be driven by keywords, hashtags, events, or individuals.

[1]This article was published in The Bibliotheca Alexandrina Newsletter (Quarterly Issue No. 16, April 2014). It is based on the third cycle of The House of Translation workshop “Translation and New Media”  delivered by Ed Bice, CEO of Meedan, held in 12 -18 February 2013 at the American University in Cairo, Egypt.

Link to the article in the BA Newsletter:  BA Newsletter Issue No. 16 (April 2014)

©2018 Dina Al-Mahdy All Rights Reserved



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