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Russian media publishes doctored translation of comments by Japanese readers

  • January 1, 2022
  • , Mainichi , Lead
  • JMH Translation

By Kimoto Harumi, Kato Akiko, and Hatta Kosuke

 

A Russian media outlet connected to the Russian government has been tampering with reader comments posted on Japanese news service “Yahoo News” when translating them into Russian for posting. Yahoo News is operated by Yahoo! Japan, the largest portal site in Japan. The Mainichi Shimbun found multiple cases where original Japanese texts have been changed or expanded in the Russian version. Some texts were changed to encourage Japan to end ties with with its U.S. ally. Experts point to the similarities between the tampering of reader comments and intelligence activities Russia is conducting in Europe, suggesting that the purpose of doctoring the Yahoo News comments is to manipulate domestic opinion in Russia.

 

The Russian company that was discovered to have been involved in the data falsification is Internet media outlet “Inosmi,” which monitors and translates Russia-related articles, blogs, and reader comments published on foreign media platforms. Like the Sputnik news agency, Inosmi belongs to a state-dominated media group.

 

On Sept. 10, 2021, Inosmi published Russian translations of seven comments on a Newsweek Japan article titled “What is expected of Japan amid the new East-West conflict.” The comments, Inosmi claimed, were posted by “Japanese readers” on the Yahoo News site that carried the article. Mainichi compared Inosmi’s Russian translations with the Japanese originals and discovered that the translation of one of the comments included parts that didn’t exist in the original. For example, the following was added to one comment: “Japanese people must grow up now and stop hiding behind the United States. In a crisis, the United States won’t help us anyway.”

 

On Dec. 2, 2021, Inosmi published translations of 13 comments on a Shukan Asahi article about the first joint maritime drill between China and Russia in the vicinity of Japan (Inosmi attributed the article to the Asahi Shimbun). One of the comments, which originally stated that the Russian and Chinese activities were conducted with the USFJ and their bases in mind, was significantly altered in the Russian translation and included an additional content that said, “Eliminate the [USFJ] bases! Everything will be fine without them.”

 

Mainichi found more than 20 cases in which Inosmi had tampered with or made additions to comments posted by Japanese readers since January 2021.

 

In September 2021,  Cardiff University’s Crime and Security Research Institute, which analyzes Russia’s influence operation, issued a report pointing out that “Russia is distorting reader comments published in Western media to misrepresent Western public opinion and to influence [Russia’s domestic audience].” This kind of effort by Russia is pervasive, and Inosmi is reportedly at the center of it.

 

Koizumi Yu, a project assistant professor who specializes in Russian military and security at the Research Center for Advanced Science and Technology at the University of Tokyo, believes that Inosmi’s activity is part of Russia’s worldwide effort to manipulate information. “No meaningful study has been done on Russia’s information war on Japan,” Koizumi said. “Japan is totally unaware that its language space has become a stage of international conflict, despite the fact Japan is a major global power and democracy that has its own national interests,” he warned.

 

Inosmi responded to Mainichi’s inquiry by saying that the company has only one Japanese translator and no editor who understands Japanese, thereby seeming to admit that there could be mistaken translations. It continued, however, “We don’t alter reader comments. We have no intention at all of doing so. A great number of comments are posted on each Japanese article. We can find interesting ones without doctoring them.”

 

Mainichi reported its finding to Yahoo! Japan. “We don’t believe it appropriate to make excessive changes or add misleading interpretation when quoting user comments,” Yahoo! Japan replied, adding, “Although Inosmi’s intention is unclear, we will gather information and monitor future developments to consider what measures to take.”

 

Yahoo has introduced a system that utilizes artificial intelligence to shut down comment sites that carry libelous remarks. The company has also banned posts to accounts that violate guidelines set by Yahoo. About the Inosmi case, however, Yahoo remarked: “[Inosmi is] translating and quoting open information that we have made public. As such, there’s only so much we can do.”

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