Free Speech Debate

For those interested in multi-lingual online dialogue, check out Free Speech Debate, a new project led by Timothy Garton Ash, Professor of European Studies at Oxford University.


The one-pager explains the project in-depth. In short, the site hosts editorially-led discussions on the topic of freedom of speech in today’s networked world. The site invites participants from around the world to join the conversation in their native language, with Google Translate handling translations. Once roll-out is complete, the site will support Arabic, Chinese, English, Farsi/Persian, French, German, Hindi, Japanese, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Turkish and Urdu.

For more on the technical background, check out lead developer Simon Dickson’s post: Free Speech Debate: our most ambitious project ever.

Above each comment section, a disclaimer warns participants that the automated machine translations provided by Google Translate “should give you a rough idea of what the contributor has said, but cannot be relied on to give an accurate, nuanced translation. Please read them with this in mind.” A quick check on the German translation for a comment written in English confirmed that that it’s clearly 80/20. This may be an area where crowdsourcing could be applied to pick up where the algorithm falls short.

A few threads are already seeing some activity, though it’s not clear if they included non-English comments. At any rate, it will be interesting to watch to what extent the trade-off (less perfect translation in return for enablement of and access to a truly global conversation) will pan out.

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