The social media hashtag #PalestineIsHere took the internet by the storm this past week as users came to believe that the disputed territory’s label was deleted from Google Maps.
The uproar gave traction to a five-month-old petition to mark Palestine and its borders, which gained over 316,300 signatories within just a few days and pushed organizations such as Jewish Voice for Peace and Forum of Palestinian Journalists to openly condemn Google Maps for its political bias.
But did the company really delete Palestine from Google Maps?
The simple answer is no. Its back story, however, is much more complicated than that. “There has never been a ‘Palestine’ label on Google Maps,” a spokesperson for Google explained. “However, we discovered a bug that removed the labels for ‘West Bank’ and ‘Gaza Strip.'”
In fact, the map hasn’t been officially changed at all since 2013, when the United Nations renamed “Palestinian Territories” to “Palestine.”
If you Google search “Palestine”, its map will show you what it has shown for the past three years: a region distinguished by a dotted line that runs from the Jenin (the northernmost point) to the Hebron (the southernmost point) and from Jerusalem in the west to the Jordanian border in the east.
While the region remains unlabeled, the cities in the demarcated location are still designated as “Palestine,” a “de jure sovereign state,” on the pop-up Wikipedia Knowledge Box.
This is not the first time Google Maps has been caught in an international dispute. After World War II, political heat regarding disputed territories such as Crimea and Kashmir have thrown the company into hot waters.
As a solution, Google initiated a Disputed Territories project that now adjusts the world map according to the location of its viewer, taking into account geopolitical and national identity conflicts.
For example, Crimea, as viewed from the U.S., is marked by a dashed line reserved for disputed territory while someone in Russia would see a solid line, indicating its annexation.
“We work to provide as much discoverable information as possible so that users can make their own judgments about geopolitical disputes,” Robert Boorstin, the Director of Google’s public policy team, said.
So was #PalestineIsHere a misunderstood and misplaced hashtag?
Although we depend on maps to be universal and accurate, cartography has hardly ever been static. Since drawings on cave walls to the first recorded map in ancient Greece, maps have constantly been redrawn and adjusted according to personal or popular belief without much backlash.
However, as technology becomes a universally dependable tool for both research and recreational purposes, its political implications have become vastly far-reaching and leave them open to varying, and oftentimes conflicting, interpretations.