All the Takes You’re About to See on the NYC-Snapchat Map Vandalism

Bill Morris
Aug 30, 2018 · 3 min read

That’s right folks, it happened - an OpenStreetMap vandal made it to prime time:

About three weeks ago, some roblox-loving, likely-gamergater mini-nazi decided to re-label New York City in OSM (along with a bunch of other landmarks). It was almost immediately caught and reverted by community members, but it somehow slipped through the Mapbox review process and made it into production today long enough for some users to notice it (though it’s since been fixed):

As with any scandalous digital f***up, there’s going to be a certain amount of ink spilled over this incident. Mapbox CEO Eric Gunderson called it “disgusting”. Ashley Feinberg made comic lemonade. As I considered the angles, I realized I’m in the perfect position of ethnographer-of-the-map-people to just write all the potential bluster in one go. So, for your convenience, here are all the takes you’re about to see:

Take 1: Wait, there are editable maps?

Likely venue: Vox

Did you know that you can decide how to name any geographic feature in the world? Even if you’re not a professional cartographer? Well there’s a wikipedia-like map called “OpenedStreetsMaps” [See other egregious misspellings. -Ed.] that will let you do just that. Seriously, you could rename your city “Schnozzleville” and it’ll show up that way on a thousand different apps! And that’s exactly what just happened in New York City . . .

{Additional boilerplate with some technical nuance that nobody reads}

Take 2: This is OpenStreetMap’s fault

Likely venue: Sponsored press release on TechCrunch from a VP at Here or TomTom (but not Google, because they’ve . . . um . . . been here already)

For too long, this dangerous crowdsourced project has been building momentum in the enterprise. How can we trust maps that can change in an instant, whether vandalized or in good-faith error? We must return to canonical cartography and authoritative sources of map data, like HERE [or TomTom, depending on who’s ambulance-chasing. -Ed.].

Apple thinks this too, but they won’t say it.

Take 3: This is Mapbox’s fault

Likely venue: The OSM mailing lists

OMFG how many times am I going to have to rant to you people about how local knowledge is the only way to build OSM!!! This shows once and for all that Mapbox’s money-grubbing, high-volume, data-team approach is flawed, and still subject to the same editorial control problems that OSM itself has! Now’s the time to ban bulk editing and imports!


Take 4: Blockchain saves

Likely venue: Medium

The recent publicly-visible vandalization of OpenStreetMap serves to reinforce what we’ve been saying for months: proof of location and authoritative geographic nomenclature can only be offered by with secure, private, decentralized blockchain technology.

Maybe the hammer has finally found a nail?

Take 5: It’s open season

Likely venue: 4chan

Hey y’all, I propose we initiate operation IronMapDickEagle on the Führer’s birthday. If it’s this easy to get the real names of places all over the world to show up in (((mainstream apps))), we should coordinate the attack.

Real talk: this last one worries me a lot. OpenStreetMap is a community of people, and even with some automated moderation assistance, it’s really vulnerable to concerted efforts at vandalization. We’re fortunate to have active and alert mappers who can catch things quickly when they happen one-off, but any #opendata project eventually has to deal with the goddamned nazis, and I’m not sure there’s a plan for it in OSM.

Hit me up if I missed any takes. I’m not an all-seeing eye, people.

Bill Morris

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maps, crops, landscapes and geographic consciousness. wrangles data for faraday inc.