Something is going on in social media that may be detrimental to the profession.

May 4, 2016 § 11 Comments

Dear Colleagues:

Interpreters benefit from the use of the internet in many ways.  We can study, do research, market our services, and communicate with each other anywhere in the world by using our telephone.  Technology helps us to stay competitive in difficult markets and saves us time. Gone are the days when we had to go to a library to research a topic. We can now access the best libraries worldwide from the booth where we are working.

Social media also gave us the very popular and numerous forums, list serves, and chat rooms that all of us visit regularly.  I must confess that, even though I am very active in many social media outlets, I visit very few interpreter forums, and none of the list serves.  For me, the main reason to visit these forums is to keep up with the most recent news that impact the profession, so I can widen my knowledge and understanding of everything that is happening out there .  For the same reason, I am sometimes turned off by some of our colleagues who visit these virtual sites.  I have nothing against learning more about our language combinations, but sometimes it gets to me to see how some interpreters post basic vocabulary questions to the forum members without even bothering to do some research on their own first. I know this is popular with many, and we have discussed it in the past, so I will not dwell on this issue. Like I said, it turns me off, but it does not disgust me.

On the other hand, there is a relatively new trend going around several of the forums that I visit. A practice that has the potential to harm the profession, and end the career of those who participate or advocate this practice.

I am talking about those colleagues who post confidential, and sometimes what can be considered privileged information in the case of court interpreters. I am also referring to those who ridicule and make fun of their own clients.

Interpreting is a profession, and as such, it is governed by a series of legal, moral and ethical principles expected from all those who practice as professionals anywhere in the world. Legal, moral, and ethical rules and principles such as diligence, honesty, and confidentiality are an essential part of an interpreter’s job description. We cannot go around divulging the knowledge acquired in confidence. We are a fiduciary profession. It is not ethical for an interpreter to reveal secrete or confidential information. It is not ethical to share the client’s personal information and private life in public either.

These duties of privacy and confidentiality are even stricter in the case of a court interpreter. Let’s take the case of the United States where court interpreters are legally and ethically bound to keep their mouth shot by Articles 5 and 6 of the Federal Court Interpreter Code of Ethics:

5: Confidentiality.  Interpreters shall protect the confidentiality of all privileged and other confidential information.”   

“6: Restriction of Public Comment.  Interpreters shall not publicly discuss, report, or offer an opinion concerning a matter in which they are or have been engaged, even when that information is not privileged or required by law to be confidential.”

Moreover, when working as agents of an attorney, interpreters are also covered and bound by the stricter client-attorney privilege; a privilege held by the attorney’s client that gives him the right to refuse to disclose, and to prevent any other person from disclosing confidential communications between the client and the attorney (Black’s Law Dictionary).

Rule 1.6 of the American Bar Association (ABA) Model Rules of Professional Conduct, reads:

“Rule 1.6 Confidentiality of Information. (a) A lawyer shall not reveal information relating to the representation of a client unless the client gives informed consent…”

These communications cannot be shared with the public, even with a court order, unless the client waives the privilege (there are some exceptions to the rule that do not apply to our subject matter) and the privilege extends to the attorney’s agents who are considered as action as an “extension” of the lawyer. These agents include legal secretaries, paralegals, investigators, and interpreters, among others (“United States v. Kovel,” 296 F.2d 918, 921 2nd. Cir. 1961)

In the past weeks I have read posts and comments in at least two different forums by individuals who present themselves as court interpreters  (I do not know them by name or in person) revealing information and details of private conversations between an attorney and his client. Moreover, several people have opined about the issues presented by this individual, without the slightest concern about a conduct that is definitely violating all codes of ethics, and may be illegal. I should mention that a few colleagues warned this person and asked this individual not to do this anymore, but for the most part, the person who was doing the posting, and those commenting on the post, continued their debate like noting had happened. I was so bothered by this use of the forum that I left and never went back, so I do not know how long this debate lasted; and even though I do not know the person who posted this, apparently privileged, information, I got the impression that the privileged information was not posted with the intention to breach a legal duty, but out of ignorance and a lack of desire to learn. I should mention that this person did not give names and other details that could easily identify the holder of the privilege, but there was enough privileged information for anyone interested on learning more about the case to find out who were the parties involved.

The second post that I saw was less likely to pierce the client-attorney privilege, but in my opinion it violated the rules of ethics and professional conduct in a truly disgusting way. This was a post by another person who called himself a court interpreter, and went on to argue that his “job as a court interpreter” was not boring because he saw different and new situations every day. Nothing wrong to this point, but next, he gave some examples of the “variety” of cases he is routinely exposed to, by sharing details of some of these cases, and giving his opinion about the parties involved, in a very offensive and demeaning way. These are some of this individual’s comments: “…The… family was lying through their teeth, but… (the) officials were gullible enough to grant them asylum…” and how about this one: “…hours of telephonic interpreting for illegal immigrants… (I) had to hear and interpret a lot of BS…” or this more troubling one: “…defendant asked why he doesn’t qualify for (a legal benefit) the answer was… he had to rat about the people who paid… for his defense…”  Unlike the first case I mentioned above, this individual received many warnings and criticisms for doing what he did, and I believe that for this reason, within a week, this person went back to the same forum and now alleged that the cases were real, but that he had “…added imaginary twists, actions or actors…” that although most (not all) of the cases were not real, “…for the purpose of initiating an intelligent debate, (he) presented them as actual, real cases…” and claimed to be a victim of attacks by those who did not want any “personal opinions”.  Finally, to make things even worse, this person defended his posts by indicating that he was justified to do so, because they had been posted in a closed forum… on the internet!

I did not write this blog to attack anybody or to end the career of any colleagues or alleged colleagues. That is why I did not revealed any names of individuals or forums, and I tried to show just enough of the published posts to convey the idea of what is troubling me. I wrote this piece because I see what is going on in these social media outlets and it concerns me. I believe that the rules of ethics and professional conduct must be observed because we are professionals, and more importantly, because they affect others who confided on us as providers of this fiduciary service. It is not the same to betray your clients’ confidence and air private matters the way these people did, or to present the facts of a case to your colleagues in a professional forum, observing all professional and ethical rules, in order to get an opinion or to dissipate a doubt. This is done by all professionals: physicians, attorneys. accountants, and interpreters on a daily basis.

I think that the majority of those who have violated these rules did not know what they were doing, and I believe that social media forums, when used appropriately, are a valuable tool.  Perhaps we need to educate those who do not know the rules, and maybe we need to assess the moderators and the guidelines of some of these forums.  What we cannot allow is a situation that will leave us all in a bad place as a profession, and in an ugly position as individual practitioners; and I am not even mentioning the tremendous liability that those who violate these canons (and in some cases the law) are exposing themselves to. I ask you to share your comments on this topic, and to do so without any personal attacks.

Translation/Interpretation online groups: Should they censor the language used by those posting?

May 9, 2013 § 4 Comments

Dear colleagues:

It is happening again: another translation/interpretation online group is giving notice that from now on there will be a “preferred language” (in this case English) and therefore one of the new group administrators is asking all those interested on posting an article or sharing information to: “…please only post your contributions in English…”  Online groups have the right to set and change their rules and if a group censors its content based on the language used by the individual writing the posting, those who participate in the group have two choices: either to abide by the new rules, even if they don’t like them, or to leave the group. In this particular case, because of the quality of the organization that backs the group, if this “English only” rule stands, I will honor it and post exclusively in English (as I am doing with this piece) even if it means that some of my articles will be excluded from these pages because when writing the article I determined that the message was better presented in another language.  Because of this new policy’s similarities to the situation we went through with the online group of ATA’s Spanish Division last year, I have decided to reproduce here the relevant parts of that posting that I believe apply to this case. The “preferred language” is different, but the policy decision was the same.  Fortunately ATA’s Spanish Division understood the consequences of such censorship and reversed its policy. There is also the possibility that I misunderstood the communication we received today, and that this online group will “dislike” a non-English posting but will not censor it.  Not the best option but certainly better that a ban from the group.  As language professionals we are used to the coexistence of many languages, and we should always keep this in mind. I just looked at the current postings on this online group and I really liked the variety of languages represented. Following are the relevant parts of my original article posted January 7, 2013. I have not inserted the entire posting because part of it dealt with the issue of online groups that limit their content based on subject matter, not language.  My dear colleagues, let’s see what you think:

“…In this modern world where we practice our profession we often encounter resources that help us answer a question, confirm a suspicion, ask for a suggestion, share information, and offer a point of view.  Many of us are taking advantage of the web and constantly visit professional websites, blogs, dictionaries, glossaries, professional chat-rooms, list-serves, and many other sites where we can find tools that in the past were difficult to get.  Just like many of you, I have fully taken advantage of these resources and often post articles and opinions on my blog (www.rpstranslations.wordpress.com), offer links on my professional Facebook page (www.facebook.com/pages/RPS-Rosado-Professional-Solutions), and provide links to information to those who follow me on Twitter (@rpstranslations).  I also participate in many professional groups and chat-rooms…

…I personally find them very useful and interesting. It is fascinating how we can learn from a colleague 14 time zones away by simply writing a comment on a Linked-in professional group.  These practices have helped many of us grow professionally and as business people.  As many of you know, I have posted many times on many groups, chat-rooms, and list-serves that originate all over the world… 

…My experience has always been positive and useful; however, I have recently come across certain opinions that came very close to limiting the access and usefulness to some of these resources.  There was a translators professional group that was trying to limit postings to one language; an interesting policy for a translators professional group where by definition, those interested should be translators and therefore know at least two languages.  This policy risks losing many participants as a good number of translators feel more comfortable writing in the other language pair instead of the one this group wanted.  This would also limit the reach of the ideas circulated in the group as third-language professionals who otherwise may benefit of a business or good practices posting would now be kept away.  Obviously, this would also discourage many others from participating as the group can be perceived as censoring and controlling what members share just by reason of not using the ONLY language allowed.  Some colleagues defended this position stating that the group is for people who use this specific language; that those who disagree should move on to other groups. I disagree, and fortunately most of those visiting the group agreed with me: This restrictive policy was not adopted. Translators and Interpreters use at least two languages and often use them both.  The failure of this movement made me very happy although I have to say that even though the administrators of this group announced that there would be no censorship, even now this is one of the very few groups on line that still “reviews” your posting before publishing it… 

…I believe that professional groups, chat-rooms, blogs and list-serves should be open to all professionals. Of course there should be a moderator to keep us all focused on a specific topic when posting on a blog… and to keep obscenity and useless personal attacks out of the professional discussion; however, limiting access in a linguist group because of the language… can result on the demise of said professional group…”  Please share your thoughts.

Translation/Interpretation online groups: A superlative failure in judgment?

January 7, 2013 § 6 Comments

Dear colleagues:

In this modern world where we practice our profession we often encounter resources that help us answer a question, confirm a suspicion, ask for a suggestion, share information, and offer a point of view.  Many of us are taking advantage of the web and constantly visit professional websites, blogs, dictionaries, glossaries, professional chat-rooms, list-serves, and many other sites where we can find tools that in the past were difficult to get.  Just like many of you, I have fully taken advantage of these resources and often post articles and opinions on my blog (www.rpstranslations.wordpress.com), offer links on my professional Facebook page (www.facebook.com/pages/RPS-Rosado-Professional-Solutions), and provide links to information to those who follow me on Twitter (@rpstranslations).  I also participate in many professional groups and chat-rooms.

I personally find them very useful and interesting. It is fascinating how we can learn from a colleague 14 time zones away by simply writing a comment on a Linked-in professional group.  These practices have helped many of us grow professionally and as business people.  As many of you know, I have posted many times on many groups, chat-rooms, and list-serves that originate all over the world.

My experience has always been positive and useful, however, I have recently come across certain opinions that came very close to limiting the access and usefulness to some of these resources.  There was a translators professional group that was trying to limit postings to one language; an interesting policy for a translators professional group where by definition, those interested should be translators and therefore know at least two languages.  This policy risks losing many participants as a good number of translators feel more comfortable writing in the other language pair instead of the one this group wanted.  This would also limit the reach of the ideas circulated in the group as third-language professionals who otherwise may benefit of a business or good practices posting would now be kept away.  Obviously, this would also discourage many others from participating as the group can be perceived as censoring and controlling what members share just by reason of not using the ONLY language allowed.  Some colleagues defended this position stating that the group is for people who use this specific language, that those who disagree should move on to other groups. I disagree, and fortunately most of those visiting the group agreed with me: This restrictive policy was not adopted. Translators and Interpreters use at least two languages and often use them both.  The failure of this movement made me very happy although I have to say that even though the administrators of this group announced that there would be no censorship, even now this is one of the very few groups on line that still “reviews” your posting before publishing it.

Another even more extreme example of this trend can be found in a different professional group chat-room where the person that moderates it (and obviously runs it) has decided not to include anything that is not strictly about what this person believes is the subject matter of the group.  Let me explain: A few months ago I entered to this group and posted a few articles about the business and ethical aspects of our profession.  Suddenly, all postings (mine and everybody else’s) went away overnight. They were replaced by a notice that this person proudly re-posts several times a week that reads: “Cleaning up discussions on…(the) group.”  It is interesting to note that this group supposedly has 386 members, and after the “clean-up”  all “surviving” postings, going back one year, are by the person who runs and moderates the group; well, there is actually one exception: another person posted the ONLY other posting that survived, and that entry is dated 10 months ago.

I believe that professional groups, chat-rooms, blogs and list-serves should be open to all professionals. Of course there should be a moderator to keep us all focused on a specific topic when posting on a blog (there is another professional group where one of the members constantly posts adds selling shoes, but don’t get me started on that one) and to keep obscenity and useless personal attacks out of the professional discussion; however, limiting access in a linguist group because of the language, and eliminating all relevant entries because they deal with the professional or ethical aspects of our career can result on the demise of said professional groups.  I would like to hear your opinion, particularly that of those who regularly use these cyber-tools.

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