Users of a variety of popular apps and services, including Snapchat, awoke Thursday morning to find that New York City had been relabeled “Jewtropolis” on maps displayed in the apps.
People on Twitter quickly posted screen shots of the maps, calling them racist and anti-Semitic. Maps on Snapchat, Citi Bike, StreetEasy and even The New York Times all appeared to be affected.
All use embeddable maps from a third-party company called Mapbox. The company’s chief executive, Eric Gundersen, said in an interview that the mishap was the “ugliest kind” of error.
Mapbox creates its maps using more than 130 different sets of data, including data from a map of the world called OpenStreetMap that is free to use and built by volunteers. One of the volunteers made more than 80 anti-Semitic or hate-oriented edits to locations around the world, including New York, Mr. Gundersen said.
Edits made to map data — approximately 70,000 every day — are flagged by a computer and reviewed by people before they are published, Mr. Gundersen said. A human reviewer stopped all of the other anti-Semitic edits made on Thursday, but pushed the “Jewtropolis” edit live.
The error was caught within one hour and fixed, Mapbox said. The company is investigating why the human reviewer published the label and plans to add additional layers of vetting, Mr. Gundersen said.
“Hate speech online is horrible,” he said. “The internet should be safe, maps should be safe.”
Many broadcast their concerns about the label on social media early Thursday morning.
Some of the companies affected said they reached out to Mapbox once they were alerted to the error and asked the company to fix it.
Snap, the parent company of Snapchat, apologized to its users Thursday and called the error “deeply offensive.” A spokeswoman for StreetEasy said the company was “deeply sorry” the error had appeared on its site. A spokeswoman for Motivate, the company that operates Citi Bike, said that Mapbox should make sure “that disgusting slurs like these don’t appear again.”
Mapbox essentially supplies the base layer of the map. Companies like The New York Times then plot their own data on top of that base layer, to create maps like this detailed map of the 2016 election.
Mapbox says more than 420 million people use its maps every month. The company’s clients also include Lonely Planet, CNN, Pinterest and Evernote. It’s unclear how many people saw or interacted with the mislabeled map before it was fixed, Mr. Gundersen said.
Tom Giratikanon contributed reporting.
Follow Mihir Zaveri on Twitter: @MihirZaveri.