Maps are not only helpful tools; they can also be powerful weapons of information dissemination. Like advertising materials, maps can inform, educate, and influence the point of view of the reader. Maps make us understand things easier. It makes complicated spatial data comprehensible. With such potential, if not used properly or biased, it can manipulate one’s views about certain phenomenon.
The map above is a propaganda map in which it depicts the countries in which news is not free to circulate. It was published in 2009 by Reporters without Borders, an organization of journalists devoted to fight for international press freedom, in an advertising website which caters to expressing any sentiment. It has shown 15 countries colored in black wherein freedom of expression has been blocked. These countries are said to have restricted access to sites in the internet. The green lines illustrate free circulation of media through the internet. The map’s purpose is to inform the general public that there are still countries that regulate the flow of information in the internet.
Primarily, the purpose of the map is not only to inform, this is definitely a propaganda map which it alters the reality in order to illustrate information in favor of the suppressed journalists. As cartographers, we should be unbiased and responsible towards meeting our objectives for creating maps.
The title adheres towards a very vague and misguiding concept as to what the real issue is. “Black holes” can be seen as vacuums wherein light or mass cannot escape, whereas in the illustration it signifies the circulation of media through the internet. This is where the problem of conceptualization begins. At first glance, the reader might see it that these countries do not have access to the internet or we are not able to access news in those regions. As an advertising tool, the map doesn’t quickly capture the whole idea it wants to portray to quickly publicize its true meaning. The misuse of the word “black hole” has definitely misled the reader to view things differently.
It is not just the map title that is problematic. There seems to be invalidity in the description at the lower part of the map. It does not actually give way to the truth – restriction of media do not actually account to the restriction of access to internet sites. Other issues may branch out like, accessibility to the use of the internet, civil strife, opposition, etc. There is no established, empirical and scientific evidence that these countries are enemies of the internet, just because the state restricts access to some sites. Allegations have also been made, to the city of Tunis, in order to put the focus towards the enemies of the internet.
The Reporters without Borders did not even supply sources and references as to how the data have been collected or organized. This further challenges the purpose of the map. The writer possibly views the map as an attempt of the cartographer to pin point or give reason why these countries should be “pacified” by the USA. China, North Korea, Vietnam and Cuba are countries which are still under communist regime. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Libya and Syria are oil producing havens. The issue of “Internet Media Restriction” legitimizes and justifies why the USA should intervene in the affairs of such countries. It shrouds out the true objectives and provides an accepted notion that the public can sympathize to.
As we can see, all countries are in black color but the “black holes” are not passed by the green lines and uses a solid color. This scheme or style is generally effective for large countries like China (Asia) and Libya (Africa). The reader would have no difficulty in differentiating it from islands and countries with small territory like Cuba and Maldives.
The use of maps throughout history as a mechanism for propaganda has proven itself as an effective equipment. Maps are symbols of expression in which the object is a message from a cartographer which will later be received by a reader. The reader is not against the concept of freedom to express but he vies for the idea of responsible expression. This map is an example how the geographer’s tool is both abused and misused.