On Thursday, Ukraine’s State Special Communications Service said Google Maps’ “labels” were being used by the Russian military as “another fake”. In a post to its official Telegram channel, the country’s intelligence agency dismissed a wave of social media rumors claiming Russian insurgents had tagged airstrike sites on Google maps of Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities.
The agency described these false claims as a psychological operation to “sow fear and misinformation among the population”.
On Tuesday, Google began removing user-submitted locations within the borders of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus in response to claims that its maps were being used to coordinate Russian military activity in Ukraine. The company is removing new content like photos and business information “out of an abundance of caution,” a Google spokesperson told BuzzFeed News.
Across social media platforms on Tuesday, people accused Google Maps of hosting content used to target airstrikes on cities such as Kyiv and Kharkiv.
“The tags on Google Maps were created on February 28th and people noticed that the tags match the locations of the missile strikes today,” Oleksandr Balatskyi, one of these individuals, told BuzzFeed News in a Twitter DM. People claimed that the tags or user-generated pins appeared with the titles “ФЕРМЕРСЬКЕ ГОСПОДАРСТВО,” or Ukrainian for “Farm” or “СІЛАСКЕ.”
BuzzFeed News could not independently verify the existence of specific pins, or the claim that the Russian military added them to Google Maps. Dozens of Twitter users shared similar screenshots showing pins labeled “ФЕРМЕРСЬКЕ ГОСПОДАРСТВО” in Kyiv, though it’s unclear when they were created and by whom.
After investigating the claims, Google said it made some edits to the citation forms over a year ago. Still, the company said it is removing edits made to maps in the region since February 24 and pausing new edits.
“Out of an abundance of caution, since the attack began we have been removing user contributions such as photos, videos, reviews and business information and all user-submitted locations from Google Maps in Ukraine, Russia and Belarus, and temporarily blocking new edits,” a Google spokesperson said.
Google told BuzzFeed News on Thursday that it is implementing an analysis of Ukraine Maps data to detect and remove false business information.