June 11, 2023

There are two root problems with the standard global map: First, when you flatten a ball, the edges are severely distorted, and second, where you center the map (the traditional one centers Europe) determines who gets distorted, and to what effect.  

Let’s start with the flattening effect. 

Countries near the equator are closer to real size, while the further away from there you get, the greater the distortion. That means that powerful nations in the global north all appear larger than many developing nations. Look at Russia, for example. 

I had no idea about the relative sizes between Russia and Africa. You can literally fit all of Russia inside Africa, when it appears (on a flattened map) that the opposite is true. Russia loves this distortion, feeding their notions of national greatness and fueling their imperial pretensions. But this also minimizes Africa’s physical presence on the map, further feeding racist perceptions of inferiority. 

Brazil also gets shortchanged. 

Greenland looks absolutely massive on a flat map. Look what happens if Mexico and Greenland are flipped

Standard flat map

Side-by-side, they are roughly the same size. Mexico is 1.96 million square kilometers, Greenland is 2.16 million square kilometers. 

Side by side, Mexico and Greenland look roughly the same size

But look what happens when you flip the two: 

Mexico and Greenland flipped on a flat map

Crazy, huh? And there’s no doubt that if the country of Mexico looked that big on a map, vis a vis the United States and Europe, that it would have outsized geopolitical influence. It’s the Russia advantage (though the U.S. and Canada benefit as well). 

So the flattening distortion is huge, but then look what happens when you center the map in other places. 

My brain hurts looking at Africa on the lower left, or seeing that weirdly distorted Russia in both of these maps. How weird is it seeing the United States pushed off to the margins, as well. This map, centered on China and vertical makes Africa and South America look globally dominant, while Russia is scrunched. (You have to open the tweet to see the full map.)

I highly recommend you check out the full thread, I didn’t paste all the maps. But I’ll leave you all with the true size of various countries, the map certainly looks and feels different, doesn’t it? 

Countries right-sized on a flattened map

Russia, Canada, and the Scandinavian countries are the most affected. Europe is dramatically shrunk. The U.S. is trimmed. But much of the global south retains their current size. Interesting, right? Our common map literally boosts the perceived size of the world’s colonial and hegemon powers. 

We know the power of maps at Daily Kos, which is why we’ve pioneered the use of alternate maps when discussing 50-state politics. 

Republicans love to point to that sea of red in the midwest and Great Plains as some kind of political dominance, when it’s all empty space with the occasional cows. And cows don’t vote. Compare the two following maps:


Boy, sure does look like Republicans dominate the country! A more honest map changes that perception: 


There are many ways to distort information, and maps are certainly one of them. That’s why I’m glad to work with an elections team that has worked to strip those biases out of the information we share with you. 

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