Twitter went into a frenzy earlier this week, over the supposed deletion of Palestine from Google Maps.
Users claimed that Google had deliberately removed the nation from its mapping services, leaving behind Israel as the only recognized country in the region.
While this angered Twitter users around the world, it also sparked calls for Google to reinstate Palestine on Maps and for the Californian-based company to issue an apology to the Palestinian people.
“[Our group] condemns the crime carried out by Google in deleting the name of Palestine, and calls for Google to rescind its decision and apologize to the Palestinian people,” said the Forum of Palestinian Journalists.
The furore has escalated to the point where more than 3000,000 people have signed a petition to get Google to put Palestine back on Maps.
Even Al Jazeera weighed in on the matter with a quick social video , indicating that one reason for its omission could be because the US – where Google is based – doesn’t recognise Palestine as a country.
Twitter users also started sharing their opinions and boycotting Google services under the hashtag #PalestineIsHere .
No matter how much you zoom in, can’t find Palestine anymore in the google maps. They decided to remove the country, shame! #PalestineIsHere
— George Orfanakis (@G_Orfan) August 8, 2016
However, as Google eventually went on to explain, Palestine never actually existed on Google Maps in the first place.
Speaking to Engadget , Google explained: “We discovered a bug that removed the labels for ‘West Bank’ and ‘Gaza Strip’. We’re working quickly to bring these labels back to the area.”
Before West Bank and Gaza Strip were removed from Google Maps, they were both defined as cities within the region of Palestine – a “de jure sovereign state” as per the UN’s own terminology.
The fact that Google never defined Palestine on Google Maps may not make the situation any better, but it’s interesting to see how quickly social media can mobilise people towards a cause – even when they aren’t presented with all the facts.
That said, as Engadget points out, companies such as Google, Apple and Microsoft all need to be aware that their services are more than just a means to find directions or answer questions – they have a huge impact on how people see the world.
Supporters of the Palestinian cause denounced Google online this week for removing the word “Palestine” from Google Maps, but there was just one problem: The company said the word had never been there in the first place.
Even by the boom-and-bust standards of anger on social media, this tale spread quickly, spurred by statements of outrage from Palestinian advocacy groups, news stories and viral videos that included no comment from Google.
An online petition from March condemning Google (and insinuating its “two Jewish founders” removed the word “Palestine” because of their alleged ties to Israel) had collected more than 280,000 signatures by Wednesday, more than 180,000 of those since the day before. Angry tweets were sent and there were calls to boycott the company.
Up until July 25 the word Palestine was on Google’s map. pic.twitter.com/I3IEkA9qGV
— JewishVoiceForPeace (@jvplive) August 9, 2016
A hashtag, #PalestineIsHere, was born. But as far as Google Maps is concerned, it actually had not been.
“There has never been a ‘Palestine’ label on Google Maps, however we discovered a bug that removed the labels for ‘West Bank’ and ‘Gaza Strip,’ ” the company said in a statement. “We’re working quickly to bring these labels back to the area.” It is unclear if that bug played a role in spurring the online outrage.
Elizabeth Davidoff, a spokeswoman, said in an email that the company had also never used the label “Palestinian territories” on its maps. The bug affecting the words “Gaza Strip” and “West Bank” persisted on Wednesday, but when Google Maps functions properly both areas are labeled and separated from Israel by a dotted line to signify that their borders are not internationally recognized.
The word “Palestine” was recently removed from the local home page of the company’s search engine, but the reason was aesthetic, not political, Ms. Davidoff said. It was taken down to make space for an Olympics-themed Google doodle, a design that sometimes greets users, as were country-specific tag lines for every country in the world.