A Nicaraguan ex-commandant who used Google Maps to plan a military operation ended up accidentally invading a country.
The territory between Costa Rica and Nicaragua has been under dispute on and off since the mid-1800s, but the issue of where the boundary currently lies is not currently in dispute between the two countries—that is, until a senior military officer decided to log on and plan out his strategy using Google Maps.
When Commandant Eden Pastora took his 3,000 troops up to the edge of the border to ensure that bordering Costa Rica was respecting sovereign limits, he found Costa Rican flags all over the place, which his troops proceeded to remove in what amounted to an inadvertent invasion.
When Costa Ricans wondered what was going on and a local newspaper asked Pastora what the heck he was doing, he pointed to the Google Maps satellite view of the region, which had the border between the two countries in the wrong place.
How could such an operation possibly go wrong? After all, he had double-checked boundary locations on Google Maps! And as anyone who has ever used Google Maps can attest, they are never wrong! Well, except for that one time I ended up in a dark alley and there was a drug deal going on at the site where my Google Maps function on iPhone had listed the concert hall I was trying to find.
The accidental invasion prompted both sides to point fingers at Google, with a Costa Rican official declaring, “There’s a bug in Google. We sent a note to the company to fix the map.” Google responded with a statement acknowledging the error and ultimately blaming it on the data they had obtained from the US State Department.
So what’s the moral of the story? Don’t rely on the Internet for anything, let alone research related to a possible military mission. If you accidentally start a war because of faulty Google Maps, then one has to believe that it’s a slippery slope from there to the point of using Wikipedia for military intelligence gathering, Twitter for communications operations, and FaceBook for building a “coalition of the willing”—e.g., “I have 5,000 FaceBook fans on my “Turn the Middle East into a parking lot” page. Maxed out! Launch time!”
As the Costa Rican example shows, people have become far too accepting of the Internet as a valuable source of information rather than taking it for what it really is: A clearinghouse of crap and a garage sale of information in which you might possibly find a gem that needs to be appraised. Anything taken from anywhere on the Internet ought to be constantly questioned and double-sourced, especially if the consequence of not doing so is war—even if only in your own personal world.
Take Wikipedia, “the online encyclopedia,” to which all may contribute knowledge, research, opinions, or insights, whether real, imagined, intentionally misrepresentative, or just skewed. Judge a current celebrity based on a Wikipedia page about him and you’re likely to find a portrait of a philandering scandal-monger, even though in real life he is wholly dedicated to his career and is only as flawed in his personal life as any of the rest of us might be.
To offer an analogy with the Google Maps incident, on the Internet the “real-life” borders have been moved, and there will have to be a major international incident before anyone does anything about it. Present trash drawn from Wikipedia without sourcing it back to the garbage can from which you pulled it, and you risk a legal battle.
Another way to start a personal war is to take information drawn from people’s FaceBook pages as factual. I have had fun on that site changing my hometown from “Vancouver, BC” to “Papua, New Guinea” to “Mecca” to that place where the volcano erupted in Iceland. Similarly, I have been “engaged,” “married,” and “widowed,” all within the span of just two or three days—by comparison, Bluebeard was a rank amateur. People who represent themselves as “single” on FaceBook are likely to be married in real life. The disconnect between online and offline (real) relationships can be so drastic and jarring that some people have committed murder or suicide over some of these deceptions. Clearly some people take them seriously—too seriously.
Finally, you could start a war by taking to heart the infinitely proliferating anonymous opinions posted on the Internet. The escalation of emotional investment usually works like this: “Mickey Mouse” comments on an article on a website to which “Donald Duck” objects. “Mickey” and “Donald” start off having a tiff, which heightens to the point at which threats on each other’s lives, families, and so forth, follow rapidly. “Mickey” threatens to rip off “Donald’s” mask. A blog is then created, dedicated solely to how much of a jerk “Donald” is. “Donald” calls the cops and demands INTERPOL involvement. “Mickey” replies: “C U at The Hague LOL.”