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Is Crowd Sourcing Ethical? Analytical Essay

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Updated: Sep 5th, 2019


The term ‘crowd-sourcing’ was coined by Howe (2006) to designate the act of outsourcing a job traditionally done by a specific employee or specific group of employees to an unknown large group of people by making an open call. Wikipedia is an instance for crowd sourcing, since anyone can make contributions to its knowledge base. Flikr hosts user-contributed images and also uses the intellect of its users to build a massive image store.

Twitter engages in crowd-sourcing of its language translation tool whereby its users provide translations free of charge which Twitter owns and reuses to provide apps in different languages thus expanding its global footprint. This user-friendly way of engaging the website-user community is a typical example of social engagement. (Howe, 2008) With this background, this project seeks to examine whether crowd sourcing is ethical.

Different actors in crowd sourcing

Twitter’s translation centre has been created by Twitter where the translators are translating the product of Twitter itself and not its tweets. Twitter states that if one changes the language settings, one will know that Twitter is available in English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, and Spanish (Twitter Blog, 2011)

“Global voices” is a bloggers and translators community website spread all over the world and is committed to bring in to the fore voices of concern not heard in the international mainstream media (Global Voices, n.d.).


It is a non-profit engaged in spreading the ideas worth spreading. It was started in 1984 for convergence of people from the three worlds of technology, entertainment and design. TED invites volunteers to translate an entire talk saying partial translations are not useful to it, and it expects the translator to complete the translation work within one month of assignment. It says they do not pay translators just as they do not pay its speakers.

It does not require formal language training, but expects translators to be fluently bilingual. It does require second pair of eyes on each translation to ensure quality. Translators have to make a request using its Translator Dashboard for further series of actions resulting into the final delivery of the translated piece. Though the translators are not paid, they are honoured on the websites by due credit to their names as translators (TED, n.d.)

Audiovisual translation is a branch of translation studies related to transfer of multimodal and multimedial texts into different languages. Since 1970s, screen-based texts as sub-titles have been on the increase. Subtitling involves superimposition of written texts on the visual footage at the bottom of the screen (Gonzalez, 2008).

Crowd-sourced translators do the translations of the updates of Twitter. Recently, Twitter has added Indonesian, Russian, and Turkish languages to its translation centre. It states that crowd-sourcing of translations is not new to them as it has been counting on volunteer translators who help Twitter in localizing since 2009. The translation centre operates in such a way that it enables a volunteer to sign up, choose a language and start translating immediately (TwitterBlog, 2011).

Facebook calls crowd-sourcing a massive outsourcing or voluntary subcontracting through an open call. The website states that crowd-sourcing is a big trend now that helps companies boost their brands and position themselves within the market.

There is a strong belief that crowd-sourcing breaks all the boundaries associated with the traditional translation process, reduces high cost, constraints and inherent errors due to discrepancies between language skills and subject knowledge. Crowd-sourcing is thus a collaborative global web-based platform that acts as a special translation tool. However, the blog raises the basic issues

  • “is it better or worse than professionally done translations?”,
  • “Will it work better or result more in faulty and inaccurate translations?” or
  • “are human translators the most reliable in terms of translation quality?” (Michelleb, 2010).

The fan-based translation initiated by Japanese anime “fansubs” [1] that has been in practice since 1980s. Now that the Web 2.0 platform provides global exposure, translation by fans has matured into a global phenomenon. It has become a participatory culture evolved from a volunteered translation by fans into a community-based translation, which is now known as crowd-sourcing or user generated translation (UGT).

However, the UGTs stand on legally shaky grounds even if the original copyright holders do not take legal action. Unlike, in the early voluntary fans translation, digitized crowd sourcing leads to digital content piracy suffered by film and music industries resulting into closures of file-sharing sites.[2] Translation-hacking [3]is an instance of legal breach.

It takes longer for the professional language services translations than it takes for the crowd sourced translation. For example, translation of the Facebook website into Spanish and German takes one week and into French, 24 hours. It is apparent the boundary between the professional translators and the amateur translators has become unclear. When the UGT enters the professional market, ethical issues are bound to crop up (O’Hagan, 2009).

Ethical issues

Anyone can enrol into request tasks and anyone can enrol into completion the tasks listed. Associated with ethical violations, is the practice of firms replacing their own highly-paid employees with cheap labour from crowds outside the firm.

The crowd-sourced translators are exploited as slave labours for the typical Human Intelligence Tasks (HITs), though there is no evidence to show that they are physically forced to do the HITs. But the workers become slaves due to their economic conditions that virtually amount to exploitation of labour which is unethical (Paul n.d)

From the perspective of a professional translator, it could be possible that a 13 year old kid from a third world country is doing the translation work for the profit oriented organisation. The so-called social media net work organisations like Facebook, Twitter are not run for charity. They do make money in the process by exploitation of labour for free. It is a huge ethical issue. (Cooper, 2009) It is imperative to examine whether advantages would outweigh disadvantages of crowd sourced translation or vice-versa.


Crowd sourcing for the purpose of translation is being used by social media networks to promote their own content in different languages.

It is a voluntary work done by the translators during their leisure hours and professional translators who depend on their earnings from translations cannot afford making contributions as volunteers do. Volunteers who work for the networks free of charge cannot make a living through crowd sourcing. But the boundary between the two is gradually getting blurred. Hence, the crowd sourcing industry must regulate themselves to avoid ethical issues soon.

Already, crowd sourcing in other fields have invited criticisms that they exploit the crowd sourced workers to do the tasks for less than minimum wage rates, but in the case of crowd sourced translators, they do not get paid at all… While crowd sourcing is unstoppable in any field, translations industry cannot be an exception. It is more of economics rather than intentional exploitation.

As stated, intervention is a common occurrence in an adverse economic situation, it is for the crowd-sourced workers to organize themselves and bring some pressure on the authorities to fix a minimum scale of payment for the crowd sourced translation work.

Crowd sourcing in translation is a great idea for all its advantages of distributed knowledge, cloud labour, crowd creativity, open innovation, and crowd funding. The disadvantages of confidentiality or secrecy concerns and copyright violations are not insurmountable.

The specimen guidelines for the crowd sourced translations are really professional-like and in the same spirit, the organsiations engaging in crowd sourced translations must strive to remove the disadvantages as well. If the disadvantages are removed, it can become a sound business model for the organisations of Facebook, Twitter and others who make money in the process.


Cooper, C 2009. Is Translation Crowdsourcing Unethical. Web.

n.d. Anime News Network. [Online] .

n.d. Definition Web.

Global Voices ( n.d). [Online] .

Gonzalez, L P. 2008. Audiovisual Translation IN Routledge Enclyopedia of Translation Studies, ed. M. Baker & G. Saldanha, Routledge, Abingdon, Ox, pp. 13-20.

Howe, J 2006. . Wired Magazin. [Online ].

Howe, JP 2008. . Wired Magazine. [Online] .

Michelleb, 2010. IN Spanish Translation Blog. [Online] .

O’Hagan M, Kockaert J H & Lommel A 2009. Evolution of User-generated Translation: Fansubs, Translation Hacking and Crowdsourcing. Journal of Internationalisation and Localisation 1(1), pp. 94-121. Web.

Paul W n.d. Crowdsourcing and Its Application In Marketing Activities Department of Marketing and International Business, Lingnan University Tuen Mun, Hong Kong. [ Online] .

Remember the milk.com,( n.d ). , Guidelines,Web.

TED. n.d., TED Ideas worth spreading. Web.

TwitterBlog. 2011. .Web.


  1. A fansub is a fan-produced translated, subtitled version of an anime program. Fansubs are a tradition that began with anime clubs in the 1980s, although with the advent of cheap computer software and subbing equipment, they really took off in the mid 1990s.
  2. File sharing sites allows free access to public to edit web content.” File sharing is the public or private sharing of computer data or space in a network with various levels of access privilege. While files can easily be shared outside a network (for example, simply by handing or mailing someone your file on a diskette), the term file sharing almost always means sharing files in a network, even if in a small local area network. File sharing allows a number of people to use the same file or file by some combination of being able to read or view it, write to or modify it, copy it, or print it.
  3. “Translation hacking involves a hacker and a translator working together to extract the relevant text from the ROM and to replace it with a translated script. < O’Hagan, M. (2009). Evolution of User-generated Translation: Fansubs, Translation Hacking and Crowdsourcing. In J. H. Kockaert, & A. Lommel, The Journal of Internationalisation and Localisation (Vol. 1). Lessius Univesrity College. P 108>
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