How a Google Maps Update Lead to the Promotion of Fringe Views

Google Maps got a small update on Thurs­day. A zoomed-out view now shows a globe instead of the old, less accu­rate, Mer­ca­tor pro­jec­tion. They announced it in a tweet:

A few tech pub­li­ca­tions noticed, and wrote arti­cles about it, treat­ing it as the use­ful but ulti­mate­ly rel­a­tive­ly unim­por­tant fea­ture that it is. Mashable’s Zoom­ing out on Google Maps now shows you a globe is a typ­i­cal exam­ple.

Some peo­ple on Twit­ter found humour in the idea, mak­ing quips about this update offend­ing flat Earth believ­ers, a tiny group of kooks who believe (or pre­tend to believe, I don’t know) that Earth is flat and grav­i­ty doesn’t exist. It’s a belief that’s eas­i­ly refut­ed and falls apart very quick­ly.

This gave ad-fund­ed pub­lish­ers their oppor­tu­ni­ty to get some atten­tion mon­ey: a sim­ple prod­uct update isn’t a sto­ry, but a man­u­fac­tured con­tro­ver­sy is. So pub­lish­ers like Metro wad­ed in with sto­ries like Google Maps has made a big change that’s going to anger Flat Earth­ers. The sto­ry may have its tongue slight­ly in its cheek, but it reprints the views of the flat Earth­ers at length.

Text from the Metro article explaining flat-Earth views
Metro help­ful­ly evan­ge­lise the views of flat-Earth­ers

In their sto­ry Sor­ry flat-Earth­ers, Google Maps now zooms out to a globe CNET even emailed a mem­ber of the Flat Earth Soci­ety for com­ment. New Zealand’s New­sHub went fur­ther by choos­ing the head­line Google seems to wade into flat Earth con­spir­a­cy the­o­ry debate when, of course, there is no debate.

The result is that a man­u­fac­tured con­tro­ver­sy about a minor prod­uct update has giv­en false equiv­a­len­cy to the fringe views of a small band of crack­pots so every­one can get a few pen­nies in adver­tis­ing rev­enue. This is the atten­tion econ­o­my in action, and it’s rot­ten.

Also pub­lished on Medi­um.

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