Some of the most useful layers to me are the Google Earth Community Forums layers. If I’m zoomed in close and want to identify a feature, most likely a GEC member will already have annotated it. I don’t expect this information to be unbiased — I can make up my own mind, thank you very much, often from disparate sources at the same location. It’s from this cacophony of opinions that I expect to gain a nuanced perspective. I also watch Fox News and Al Jazeera, and I can highly recommend the resulting world view.
This is why a new article on TotallyJewish.com, Google Anti-Israel Probe by Marc Shoffman, is so disappointing:
Google has launched an enquiry into its interactive atlas program Google Earth after a TJ investigation revealed the online mapping and navigation service is replete with anti-Israel propaganda.
Google Earth, which claims to provide “local facts” and “critical tools for understanding a story” about the world, also contains factually incorrect data and biased images relating to Israel and the Middle East.
One Israeli settlement is displayed alongside comments implying citizens are stealing water from neighbouring Palestinians, while other images purport to show copies of land confiscation orders as well as plans to extend the security fence into Bethlehem.
For a story that purports to uncover bias, it isn’t quite practicing what it preaches. The story makes it sound like Google acknowledges there is “anti-Israel propaganda” being posted to Google Earth via the forums, and is looking into what it can do to remedy the situation. We are told a Google spokesperson “promised that the company would investigate the offending postings.” That doesn’t sound like an “Anti-Israel probe” to me. More like a moderator double-checking his or her forum to see if anybody overstepped the bounds of civil discourse.
In any case, the evidence provided by TJ is rather meek. Let’s get specific: Several of the placemarks TJ refers to are from this posting in GEC documenting all Israeli settlements in the West Bank. In this one the poster writes “Note the well tended lawns in a region deprived of water”, and in this one the poster adds an image: “The land confiscation orders below seize the majority of the village land…” That’s verging on polite, certainly by the combative standards of discourse in Israeli media. Furthermore, criticizing Israel’s settlement policy in the West Bank is not anti-Israel. I do it, as do Jewish and Israeli friends I have, and I’m not anti-Israel.
Elsewhere, visitors to Google Earth who click on the settlement of Kibbutz Revivim are shown an image of a wrecked C-47 plane. And just outside Jerusalem, a computer generated image, believed to have been taken from a computer game, claims to depict an Israeli missile factory.
Here’s the link to the C-47. It’s part of a comprehensive listing of all classic planes found in Google Earth now maintained by Valery Hronusov. That plane is offensive how exactly? I couldn’t find the purported missile factory. It sure would help if TJ provided links, so we can judge for ourselves.
Later on, we get this great quote:
Professor Eric Moonman, President of the Zionist Federation, said: “It’s outrageous that an information centre and device like Google should be infiltrated like this.
“What it does mean is that we are mixing up an information centre with prejudice and potentially the views of nutters.”
Oh my God! It’s just like the internet! And that’s an illuminating analogy — Google Earth is on its way to becoming a geobrowser, letting you surf a geospatial web populated with content referenced by place, from every conceivable source. But the geoweb i still in its infancy — in its bulletin board days, in fact, which is what the Google Earth Community is.
The downside to a bulletin board? Google doesn’t host the web that it indexes, but it does host that instance of the geoweb known as the Google Earth Community. And this has already created plenty of friction, mostly with governments unhappy at the manner in which Google Earth Community members are annotating state “secrets” with merry abandon. This ultimate responsibility is a potential Achilles heel for Google, as discussed on Ogle Earth before, because Google’s international business interests could be held hostage locally by governments.
To his credit, Shoffman knows what the proper solution to his complaint is: Appending speech you do like to speech you don’t like by adding your own placemarks. That is the principled stance to take in an open society that values its free speech… Astroturfing, not so much:
But revelations that it is also being used to freely promote anti-Israel views has alarmed the Jewish community and led to a rallying call for people to post positive and fair images about the country.
Alarm, ay? I’ve found exactly three posts in response to Shoffman’s articles on the blogosphere: At the Town Crier, Orthomom, and DovBear. DovBear and Orthomom’s commenters all essentially make the same points as in this article: More speech, not less.