During the week between Christmas and New Year’s, several Twitter users noticed that the “translate tweet” button to English for tweets in Hebrew wasn’t working. Several users posted that they noticed the bug around December 28, specifically when some Hebrew tweets by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, mostly about his visit to Brazil, did not have the translate button, although the prime minister, as he often does, also posted the same messages seperately in English.
By December 30, the translate button was back, and could be seen on most Hebrew-language tweets, including those by Netanyahu and the official accounts of the Israeli Defense Forces and other Israeli government entities. Several Hebrew tweets from throughout the prime minister’s visit to Brazil for the inauguration of President Jair Bolsonaro were rendered with the translate button.
Twitter has not made any comment on exactly why its Hebrew translation software was off for two days during the week of a holiday. And the only media coverage of the affair has come from a notorious conspiracy theorist who was herself banned from Twitter in November.
Writing for the conservative website Big League Politics, journalist Laura Loomer reported on the non-translation of Hebrew tweets and described it as “another act of Jew hatred and anti-Israel bias.” Loomer, after she was kicked off Twitter, famously handcuffed herself to a building in New York that Twitter uses for offices. She wore a yellow star during the protest, as a way of evoking Nazi Germany, and claimed that her Twitter banishment was an act of anti-Semitism.
Her piece argues that “Twitter’s decision to essentially erase Jews and Israeli’s from Twitter by cutting off the translate option is an act of anti-jewish aggression against the Jewish people and their homeland.”
There’s nothing in the article that establishes that Twitter’s temporary removal of the button was intentional. Loomer’s piece has also not been updated to reflect that the translate button is now back on Twitter for Hebrew tweets.
The piece makes other unsupported assertions, including that Twitter is “funded by Saudi Arabia,” and “this is why Twitter keeps banning conservatives, Jews, and Christians.” The Saudi Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, as the piece notes, is a major shareholder in Twitter.
However, Al-Waleed is not a synonym with “Saudi Arabia,” as the prince is at odds with the current leadership of the kingdom, which detained him as part of a purge a year ago. There’s also zero evidence presented that Al-Waleed has had anything to do with Twitter’s banishment policies. While Al-Waleed has been investing in American tech companies since the 1990s — he was a major shareholder in Apple for many years — he has no established record of intervening with those companies in ways that are meant to punish Jews or Israel. And finally, Al-Waleed’s father, Prince Talal bin Abdulaziz, died on December 23, making it unlikely his son was spearheading a secret plot to rid Twitter of Hebrew translations a few days later.
It’s not clear exactly why Twitter’s Hebrew translate function stopped working for two days during the last week of 2018. But a simple software bug is probably a more likely explanation than a high-level international conspiracy.