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Google Blames Users For Renaming Senate Office Building After John McCain

The Russell Senate Office Building appeared as the McCain Senate Office Building on Google Maps Wednesday.
John McCain. Image: Staff Sgt. Jim Greenhill/U.S. Army

An informal suggestion to rename a Senate office building after late Senator John McCain became internet-official Wednesday when Google Maps began labelling the Russell Senate Office Building the “McCain Senate Office Building.” A Google spokesperson told Motherboard that this was a mistake based on user suggestions.

On Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer circulated a letter gauging the interest of fellow senators on the idea of renaming the Russell Senate Office Building after McCain, who died Saturday from brain cancer. The building, the oldest of Senate offices, houses the D.C. offices of senators as well as a number of committees. It is currently named after Senator Richard Russell Jr., a senator from Georgia who served for almost 40 years, but was also a racist who fought against desegregation.


“I hope that many, if not most or all, will join [this proposal] because Senator John McCain was a dear friend to all of us and a great American, great senator, a great man,” Schumer wrote on Twitter.

Immediately, there was skepticism from the GOP, and Schumer hasn’t yet introduced a formal resolution on the renaming. Yet eagle-eyed Google users noticed that Google Maps was already showing the building as the McCain Senate Office Building as of Wednesday morning. At the moment, it has been changed back.

“We empower people to contribute their local knowledge to the map, but we recognize that there may be occasional inaccuracies or premature changes suggested by users,” a Google spokesperson told Motherboard. “When this happens, we work to address as quickly as possible. We have implemented a fix for this issue that is rolling out now.”

Google is notoriously opaque about how its map information is generated and vetted. It’s lead to ongoing issues in cities as neighborhoods are renamed seemingly without consultation with the actual neighborhood. Google users can submit suggested changes to the names, markers, and information about locations on the map, which Google then reviews and sometimes adopts. However, one former Google Maps employee told the New York Times that these submissions are often reviewed by employees who have no knowledge of the area, such as contractors in India.

The Google spokesperson did not immediately respond to further questions, leaving us wondering how exactly the process works. If enough users suggest a name change, will it automatically go through? And, if so, what do we want to rename The White House?

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