The first in a two-part series, these maps show references to the terms "democracy" and "dictatorship" in Google Maps placemarks. In a likely vain attempt to forestall complaints, we would like to note that we fully understand that the reality of governance is never so clear as an either/or choice between democratic or dictatorial rule. In fact, as the findings of these maps show, the complexities of state politics are never as clear as they may seem, especially in this context.
Each of the maps below show the number of placemarks mentioning the keywords "democracy" or "dictatorship", aggregated at the country level across the world. These amounts were then normalized by the total number of placemarks per country, and classified based on the geometrical interval method, which is appropriate given the lack of a normal distribution in these datasets.
The United States and United Kingdom have the highest relative levels of references in placemarks to "democracy". More interesting, however, is that both Iran and Iraq have relatively high numbers of references to "democracy" as well. While both nations maintain elements of democracy (e.g., elections), they are not widely considered to be fully democratic states. Meanwhile other countries such as India with long established democracies have relatively fewer references.
In the case of Iraq, the prevalence of democracy in placemarks is likely associated with the attempts to establish a functioning democratic government as part of the ongoing occupation. Similarly in the case of Iran, the placemarks mentioning democracy are almost certainly related to the mass protests against the Iranian regime following last summer's contested elections. These protests were accompanied by a mass online demonstration using a variety of social media applications and this activity appears to be reflected within Google Maps.
This same anomaly can also be found in the countries with highest concentrations of references to "dictatorship" in the map below, in which many non-authoritarian countries are relatively prominent, while some authoritarian states are not. For example, the U.S. shows up as having a high number of placemarks referencing dictatorship. Again, our method captures interest in a particular keyword within places' cyberscapes and imperfectly reflects offline activities. In this particular instance, the U.S.'s high showing is likely tied to the fact that the U.S. has many placemarks and that the search term was in English.
Nevertheless, many current dictatorships - Myanmar (Burma) in southeast Asia, Eritrea in east Africa and Cuba - display some of the highest relative concentrations of the keyword dictatorship. Other countries whose history included authoritarian leaders -- Chile, Argentina, Paraguay and Nicaragua -- remain prominent in terms of their online representations. In fact, in contrast to georeferenced mentions of democracy (which seem more oriented towards the potential for democracy in the future) references to the keyword "dictatorship" appear to have more of a historical element to them.
So while there remain some distortions in how the political systems of the world are represented in Google Maps, these maps reinforce our findings that the online representations of place are strongly tied to the physical world. Moreover, in the case of these political cyberscapes, they introduce a new level of temporality - the historical and futuristic references that have previously been absent (or, at the very least, less noticeable) - to our analysis of these online constructions of offline space.
And one of the most fundamental question -- Who gets to make these political definitions? – remains.