On Thursday, the State Special Communications Service of Ukraine called claims that Google Maps “labels” were being used by Russia’s military “another fake.” In a post to its official Telegram channelthe country’s intelligence agency debunked a wave of social media rumors that claimed Russian insurgents had tagged airstrike locations on Google Maps of Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities.
The agency described these false claims as a psychological operation “to sow panic and misinformation among the population.”
On Tuesday, responding to claims that its Maps were being used to coordinate Russian military activity in Ukraine, Google began removing user-submitted locations within the borders of Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus. The company is removing new content such as 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 allegedly used to target airstrikes on cities such as Kyiv and Kharkiv.
“The tags in Google Maps were created on Feb 28th, and people noticed that the tags match the places the missile strikes today,” one of these individuals, Oleksandr Balatskyi, told BuzzFeed News in a Twitter DM. People claimed that the tags, or user-generated pins, began appearing yesterday with titles such as “ФЕРМЕРСЬКЕ ГОСПОДАРСТВО,” or Ukrainian for “farm,” and “СІЛЬСКЕ ГОСПОДАРСТВО,” or Ukrainian for “agriculture.”
BuzzFeed News could not independently verify the existence of specific pins, or the claim that Russia’s military added them to Google Maps. Dozens of Twitter users have shared the same set of screenshots showing pins labeled “ФЕРМЕРСЬКЕ ГОСПОДАРСТВО” in Kyiv, though it is unclear when they were created and by whom.
After investigating the claims, Google said that some of the edits that reference farms were made more than a year ago. Still, the company said it is removing edits made to maps in the region since Feb. 24, and it would pause new edits.
“Out of an abundance of caution, we are removing user contributions like photos, videos, reviews and business information and all user-submitted places from Google Maps in Ukraine, Russia and Belarus since the invasion began, and are temporarily blocking new edits from being made, ”a Google spokesperson said.
Google also told BuzzFeed News on Thursday that it is implementing an analysis of Ukraine maps data to detect and remove inaccurate business information.