The proposal to rename a Senate office building currently named after a racist to instead honor John McCain has proved surprisingly controversial in the couple of days it’s been on the table. But on some parts of the internet, it’s already an established fact: Some Google users have found that searching “Russell Senate Office Building,” for now at least, yields a map marked with the “McCain Senate Office Building,” despite a lack of official name change.
Earlier this week, Sen. Charles Schumer put forward the idea to change the building’s name to honor McCain, the longtime Arizona senator who died on Saturday. It is currently named after Richard Russell, a senator who served Georgia from 1933 to 1971. He was “an iconic figure in his day [who] was also an arch-segregationist and the key legislative leader of the white supremacist movement,” as Vox put it. Schumer, a Democrat, intended his suggestion as an olive branch to Republicans that would both honor one of their own and make the name more historically palatable. So far Republicans haven’t responded as favorably as he hoped.
Though it’s unclear where it originated, the Google Maps name change is a show of support for Schumer’s plan. The likely culprit is anonymous internet vigilantes, the same people who edit Wikipedia pages and plant Google bombs. Google hasn’t yet commented on what happened here, but in the past the company has told the New York Times that it creates maps from “third-party data, public sources, satellites and, often most important, users.” User changes are supposed to be reviewed by Google employees, but users with a history of accuracy have reported that they can cause changes to be made practically instantaneously after submitting them.
It’s likely that Google will correct its map quickly, but the anonymous person or people who took it upon themselves to rename the building have already made their opinions heard: They want the Russell Building renamed, and they’re willing to use the tactics of petty internet warfare to agitate for it.
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