It's likely most average Joes view the concept of maps, especially online services like Google Maps, MapQuest, etc, as benign objects designed to get people from one place to another, or, perhaps, give users a better idea of their surroundings. Rarely are the political motivations of maps are factored into the equation.
Essentially, maps are largely viewed as means, er, directions to an end point, but for people fighting for their freedom in foreign lands against despotic rulers, maps, even something simple has naming conventions for certain areas, have a great deal of power that goes way beyond getting from point A to point B.
Just ask the Libyan rebels who renamed an area in Tripoli to one that better fits their cause. What was once "Green Square" is now "Martyrs' Square," at least in relation to Google Maps.
The change has even been recorded in the Libyan version of Google Maps:
عرض خريطة بحجم أكبر
Which, aside from the Arabic page formatting, looks an awful lot like its western hemisphere counterpart:
View Larger Map
To the rebels who have been fighting Gaddafi's rule with a tooth, nail, and scavenged weapons approach, the subtle but powerful change had to feel something like victory.
If you somehow doubt the power of maps in relation to politics and social issues, ask Palestine how it feels about Israel's attitude towards the Gaza Strip, and vice versa. So imagine how it feels to be a Libyan rebel when you discover Google has acknowledged your efforts with a map name alteration, a simple act that has powerful, powerful repercussions.
Imagine Gaddafi's disdain at such knowledge, provided he's able to receive any news about it. If he still had his iron-clad grip over the Libyan people and the country's policies, you can guarantee such a change would not take place unless he approved it.
According to IBT, the change came about as something of a crowd-sourced movement. Google allows users to make alterations to maps for personalizing purposes, but how often does it include them in their final product?
With Martyrs' Park, you get the idea Google was more than happy to oblige, because it allows them, as a company, to subtly voice their support for Libya's freedom fighters. There is some pause to be taken with the name change, at least in regards to the comments that accompany it.
In Benghazi, they've been lynching (beheading and burning alive) suspected Gaddafi's supporters on the main city square. I wonder if that fine tradition of these brave freedom fighters will be continued on this square once they are in full control of the city.
It's easy to understand the hatred for Gaddafi and his supporters, but going after the leader is one thing, murdering his supporters is an entirely different matter altogether. That being said, the majority of the comments concerning the renaming of Green Square to Martyrs' Square has been positive, even if people have a hard time spelling everything correctly:
Proud of the free people in lybia 🙂
Way to go, Google! Proud of you for being on top of this. And congratulations to the people of Libya - we're all rooting for you in reclaiming your country as your own. You deserve freedom and dignity - don't let anyone tell you otherwise!
The Libyan version of Google Maps features many of these supporting comments as well:
Kudos to Google for keeping it up to date! Happy for the Libyan people
So was it appropriate for Google to use their maps for such a purpose or are they obliged to sit it out and wait for the results before inserting itself, considering the political power maps possess?
H/t to The Atlantic for another awesome image of the Libyan rebels.