Anti-semitic vandalism has turned New York City into “Jewtropolis” on a number of online platforms, including Snapchat, CitiBike, and StreetEasy. The problem appears to stem from the mapping software that the platforms are using, called Mapbox, which pulls data from OpenStreetMap.
A tweet by Snapchat Support explained that, “Snap Map relies on third party mapping data which has unfortunately been subject to vandalism.”
Snapchat said in the tweet that they’re working with Mapbox, the company responsible for Snapchat’s maps along with a host of others, to “get this fixed immediately.”
The vandalism appears to be visible for some Snapchat users, while others can’t see it. Zooming in and out on the map seems to make it switch between New York and “Jewtropolis.” Both Snapchat and Mapbox did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
There has been a noted rise in anti-semitic vandalism both online and in the real world, fueled by the rise of the so-called alt-right. Alt-right ideology is closely aligned with neo-Nazism, though adherents often reject the Nazi label despite sharing hatred of nonwhite people and often Jews.
Gizmodo will update this article as we learn more about the mapping vandalism.
Update, 10:22am: Snapchat just sent a statement to Gizmodo:
Snap Map, similar to other apps, relies on third party mapping data from OpenStreetMap, which unfortunately has been vandalized. 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.
Update, 12:41pm: Mapbox just sent Gizmodo the following statement, noting that while the vandalism was flagged by AI, it wasn’t dealt with quickly enough due to “human error”:
Mapbox has a zero tolerance policy against hate speech and any malicious edits to our maps. This morning, the label of “New York City” on our maps was vandalized. Within an hour, our team deleted and removed that information. The malicious edit was made by a source that attempted several other hateful edits. Our security team has confirmed no additional attempts were successful.
We build systems so this does not happen. Our maps are made from over 130 different sets of data, and we have a strong double validation monitoring system. Our preliminary root cause analysis shows that this act of hate speech was properly detected immediately and put into quarantine for human review.
Typically, our validation system prevents malicious edits from entering the system from any third party data source. Our AI system flags more than 70,000 map changes a day for human review. While our AI immediately flagged this, in the manual part of the review process a human error led to this incident.
Security experts are working to determine the exact origin of this malicious hate speech. We apologize to customers and users who were exposed to this disgusting attack.
We will continue to investigate this act and make appropriate changes to further limit the potential for future human error.