Online propaganda, internet algorithms, and the end of wisdom

Today’s warning about Big Tech comes from pretty far afield — the French online translation service called Reverso.

A story by AFP (Agence France Presse) revealed that using Reverso’s search engine repeatedly turns up racist and anti-Semitic examples of how words can be used.

Users who typed “nicer” into Reverso looking for a French equivalent were offered the example: “Hitler was a lot nicer to the Jews than they deserved.”

A search of “much nicer” produced the result “Dachau was much nicer than Auschwitz.” 

Perhaps the most shocking example was this:

AFP found that translating “Jew” into Italian brought up, “We will knock on the door of the mosques with Jewish skulls” …

It wasn’t only anti-Semitic comments either. AFP provided racist examples of how Reverso taught its users to look at blacks:

A search done by AFP on the French word for “blacks” gave the English translation “Known fact — blacks move in, crime goes up” [and] “To be fair, most animals hate black people”.

The founder of Reverso, Theo Hoffenberg, offered the usual shocked apologies and promised to correct the “unfortunate and horrible” translations created by its Context search.

The problem seems to be that the company’s software searches the internet for usage examples and doesn’t differentiate between reasonable discourse and vile epithets. Reverso apparently harvests subtitles from internet videos, for instance, to look for commonly used phrases. From the examples provided in the news story, those videos at least in part come from jihadist websites.

Hoffenberg may be entirely sincere in his intention to clean up his “algorithms,” but this story is just the latest of thousands of examples of how technology controls knowledge — and I shouldn’t have to point out that knowledge controls behavior. As we become more and more dependent on cyber technology and ultimately AI (artificial intelligence) to shape our intellectual environment, we are losing the ability to discern truth from falsehood and to distinguish intelligent vs. unintelligent thought. Ironically, Reverso’s Context search engine reveals that the internet is the destroyer of context. Instead, everything is equal.

For instance, in a search I did to confirm AFP’s story, a search for the term “white” returned this example:

Israel has used white phosphorus against Palestinians and displaced them.

Not exactly the most common or helpful use of “white” you would expect to find. It’s what we used to call propaganda, just another smear against the Jews, but if all knowledge is equal, then propaganda is just one more point of view to be given equal weight.

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Education follows the path of least resistance, and as we jettison our history and culture overboard and replace them with instant access to the “wiki” world, we had better be prepared. The democratization of knowledge will surely spell the end of wisdom.

Frank Miele writes from Kalispell, Montana, at and is a columnist at Real Clear Politics. To see more of my columns about the Dishonest Media, the Deep Swamp, the failed presidencies of George W. Bush and Barack Obama, and Trump’s war to restore American greatness, read my “Why We Needed Trump” trilogy. The books are available at Amazon in paperback or Kindle editions. Also please considering leaving a review in support of my conservative commentary on one or all of my book pages at Amazon! Thanks!

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One Reply to “Online propaganda, internet algorithms, and the end of wisdom”

  1. Your “education follows the path of least resistance, and as we jettison our history and culture overboard…The democratization of knowledge will surely spell the end to wisdom.”

    The adage “Knowledge is Power” has gone out the window, as well. What we are witnessing is historical ignorance to the detriment of our society.

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