Chinese messaging app WeChat has apologized for an error in its algorithm that provided the N-word as a translation for a neutral Chinese term for black foreigners.
According to The Guardian, the app, which serves almost 900 million users, said that the slur was a result of the artificial intelligence software that translates between Chinese and English.
The issue was discovered by Shanghai-based theater director Ann James, who texted her Chinese colleagues in their messaging group this morning to say she was running late. She used the built-in translation feature and the message “the ni**er is late,” popped up.
“We’re very sorry for the inappropriate translation,” a WeChat spokesperson told Sixth Tone. “After receiving users’ feedback, we immediately fixed the problem.”
In China, WeChat is not only used as a messaging tool but also as a cashless payment provider and a social media and online publishing platform. The company behind it, Tencent, is now the world’s 10th most valuable public firm, worth $275 billion, according to The Economist
“I was just horrified,” James told Sixth Tone. Yet she doubted that her colleague would use such a slur, and another friend confirmed that the original Chinese message used a neutral term: hei laowai, or “black foreigner.”