New York City Renamed 'Jewtropolis' in Snapchat Map Vandalization

Users on other services, such as CitiBike and StreetEasy, also noticed the change ■ Open-source mapping service used by Snapchat apologizes, says it relies on contributing editors to track and fix defacements

Oded Yaron
Oded Yaron
Screen grab taken from Mapbox shows part of a map where New York City's location was labeled Jewtropolis, August 30, 2018
Screen grab taken from Mapbox shows part of a map where New York City's location was labeled Jewtropolis, August 30, 2018Credit: Dan Rambaldi,AP
Oded Yaron
Oded Yaron

People using the Snapchat app were surprised recently to find an anti-Semitic pun on the map of the Snap company as an anonymous user changed New York's name in the service to Jewtropolis. According to a report in the Engadget technology blog, several Snapchat users, as well as other services like CitiBike and StreetEasy noticed the change. It was fixed within a few hours.

All the applications effected by the vandalism use the service of Mapbox, which claims to have over 420 monthly users. The company draws information from OpenStreetMap, an open-source mapping platform based on data from users.

"Snap Map, similar to other apps, relies on third-party mapping data from OpenStreetMap, which unfortunately has been vandalized," said the company on the incident. "This defacement is deeply offensive and entirely contrary to our values, and we want to apologize to any members of our community who saw it. We are working with our partner Mapbox to fix this as quickly as possible."

Mapbox also apologized for the defacement and explained the incident was one of several attempts by the same person, and was the only successful one, despite the company's use of content authenticity systems.

"Our AI system flags more than 70,000 map changes a day for human review," said the statement, adding that "While our AI immediately flagged this, in the manual part of the review process a human error led to this incident.

In a statement on its blog site, OpenStreetMap said the man responsible for the defacement was banned from editing its online map service. OpenStreetMap employs a model similar to Wikipedia, in which all editing is done by contributing users, as well its supervision mechanisms. Every change is published immediately, and OpenStreetMap relies on the community to fix cases of vandalism.

"This 'soft security' approach may sound surprising, but over the years we’ve found, as something of a triumph of human nature, that the vast majority of editors want to come together to help build something great, and these massively outnumber the few bad apples," said the statement.

According to the mapping service, the defacement occurred over a month ago, but was only now revealed due to the Mapbox content approval process.

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