Twitter launched in four new languages: Arabic, Farsi, Hebrew and Urdu. What’s different about the launch is that it’s not only the language that was changed but the user interface of Twitter was altered to support right-to-left languages.
In January 25, the four languages were added to the Twitter Translation Center where 13,000 volunteers immediately worked on translating. The volunteer translators include: a Saudi blogger, Egyptian college students, a journalist at the BBC, IT professionals in Iran and Pakistan, an Israeli schoolteacher, the co-founders of the grassroots #LetsTweetInArabic campaign, academics specializing in linguistics, and teenagers in Lebanon.
Most of the translators come from places where the micorblogging service is banned. It just shows how much Twitter is in demand, that people are willing to translate it to their language so it would be allowed in their country.
Twitter is now available in 28 languages but since they also have to deal with both left-to-right and right-to-left languages, their engineers built a new set of special tools to ensure these Tweets, hashtags and numbers all look and behave correctly.
Though Twitter and other forms of social media proved to be useful for protesters in the Middle East and Asia, their influence shouldn’t be over-hyped.
“Twitter has been overhyped in its role in the [Iranian] 2009 stolen election and in the Tunisian uprising that then overthrew Ben Ali,” Annabelle Sreberny, professor of global media and communications at London’s School of Oriental and African Studies said in an interview with BBC. “It is just one among a range of tools and platforms that people use.”
But Sreberny stated that customizing such services for local audiences makes it a more influential tool.
“I think the parallel would be the making available of tools to help people blog in Persian in 2002-3 by Hossein Derakshan. His manual on how to blog in the language helped trigger a huge boom in Persian voices on the internet,” Sreberny added.
Arrested for Tweeting
Saleh al-Dhufairi was arrested by Dubai authorities for “promoting ideas, whether in speech, writing or any other means, that cause sedition and harm national unity and social peace.” Dhufairi used his Twitter account in criticising their country’s internal security forces for interfering with civil rights.
Dubai’s government has been clamping down on voices of dissent in the wealthy United Arab Emirates.
And while Twitter finds a way to expand its user base and give people a voice, not everyone is happy with the microblog. Just ask novelist Jonathan Franzen and radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh.
Franzen referred to Twitter as “unspeakably irritating,” saying it “stands for everything he opposes,” the ultimate irresponsible medium. And Limbaugh is pissed at critics who are using Twitter to ward off potential advertisers to his long running radio show.
Critics are pressuring advertisers to put their ads on Twitter or Facebook instead of Limbaugh’s show, after viewers showed their frustration with Limbaugh’s attitude and choice of words. The goal is to force distributor Clear Channel Communications Premiere Radio Networks to stop syndicating the show all together.