Jerusalem Post get’s Dr Oboler’s analysis on the Google Earth ‘Nakba’ dots

Stephanie Rubenstein, Google Earth highlights the ‘Nakba’, Jerusalem Post, July 2nd 2008

Anti-Israel activity on the Google Earth application has been stepped up this week, with the message “Nakba – The Palestinian Catastrophe” now appearing when users scroll over the orange dots that speckle locations across the entire map of Israel.

Google spokesperson Jessica Powell said on Tuesday that Google has no plans to restrict the application’s content, despite claims that Israel is being uniquely and malevolently targeted. “Israel is being specifically targeted. No one else is running a campaign against a country like this,” said Andre Oboler, a post-doctoral fellow in the political science department at Bar-Ilan University and Legacy Heritage Fellow at the NGO Monitor watchdog group.

Some posts on the map of Israel incorrectly state that various cities are Palestinian towns destroyed during the 1948 War of Independence, Oboler said. He added that after searching through Google’s world map, he had not found a similar situation in any other country. Jenin resident Thameen Darby is posting these notes on the application, as well as links to a Palestinian propaganda site, Palestine Remembered, which offers more layers of misinformation for the map of Israel, Oboler said.

When Google Earth is first downloaded, the application’s core system allows for various layers to be available to users. The content found within the core includes overlays, created by both organizations and individuals, allowing more detailed perspectives on certain areas. The orange dots posted by Darby can be immediately found on the map, while other pro-Israel and corrected postings have to be downloaded separately, according to Oboler. A user has to actively seek for another perspective on the map, he said. “The core layer is what people get when they download and install Google Earth,” Oboler said. “It is there by default. The problem we have here is that the core layer is being used to promote propaganda, and this is being done openly and without penalty. If we treat Google Earth as the primary geographic information tool in the world, having such propaganda included becomes a problem.”

Oboler added that application users should generate truthful content about Israel, in order to counteract the misinformation and stop the site from becoming a “pile of spam.” “Google needs to review their policy for the community content layer, perhaps dividing it up or further restricting it to content about current significant locations and landmarks,” Oboler said. “Information can also be about the past or the future, for advocacy or for education. These things are valuable, but belong in separate layers, preferably ones that are fine-tuned to specific topics. This would prevent the abuse of the platform, the problem we have now, and avoid the problem of clutter in the future as the earth is overpopulated with user content.”

Google is aware of the user-generated content and said that the company is dedicated to free speech and believes that the “debate is healthy,” Google spokesperson Jessica Powell said. The user-generated commentary from the Google Earth Community is automatically turned on in order to make information more readily available to users, she added. Both Israeli and Palestinian perspectives are posted on the map of Israel, and there are other places of controversy in the world map besides the Middle East, she said. “This layer reflects what people contribute, not what Google believes to be true,” Powell said.

Kiryat Yam is suing Google for libel because the map application falsely lists the city as being built on the remains of an Arab settlement, Ghawarina, after the Israeli War of Independence in 1948, said the city’s spokesman Naty Key Zilberman. Google has not been in contact with the city over the claims, leaving Kiryat Yam with no choice but to sue, he said, adding that the case should be ready to submit to the court system in the United States within a few months.

“[Google Earth] is part of propaganda war, which [Israel] is losing,” said Gerald Steinberg, political science professor at Bar-Ilan University and the head of NGO Monitor. “While we recognize that some may find the user-generated content objectionable, we are careful to balance the integrity of an open forum with the legal requirements of local governments,” Powell said. Google removes only features that violate its terms and conditions. This, she said, is not the case with the posts on the map of Israel. The company would rather have a healthy amount of debate than place a limit on the application’s content, said Powell. “At the end of the day, individuals know more about the environment than Google ever will,” she added.

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