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Facebook posts – Google Maps did not change blurring settings to reveal secret Russian military facilities

Facebook posts – Google Maps did not change blurring settings to reveal secret Russian military facilities

Pigeons, airplanes, satellites and drones have long been used to produce aerial photos that guide military action on the ground. But in recent years, these images have moved beyond military circles. They are sometimes also being shared on social media to push false information and influence public perception of wars. 

Before Russia invaded Ukraine in February, satellite images were used to track the massing of Russian troops around Ukraine. Then they were used to reveal the movement of Russian tanks towards Kyiv, to expose the destruction caused by the war across Ukraine, and to document the atrocities committed by Russian forces in Bucha.

Some satellite images have been shared with false information. That was the case with a Facebook post published on April 18 that claimed that Google Maps started publishing images of secret Russian facilities in unprecedented high resolutions.

“Google Maps has opened all military and strategic facilities in Russia,” including “naval bases, launch pads, and command posts,” the post said. “This symbolic act allows anyone to ‘wander’ through secret places in Russia.”

The post includes four satellite images that supposedly show Russian military facilities and assets in unprecedented detail. PolitiFact confirmed that one of the images shows a Russian aircraft carrier, and The Verge confirmed that a second image is of a Russian military facility, but it’s unclear if the other images in fact show Russian military sites and assets.

The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)

At the request of governments, Google presents blurred images of military facilities in some countries, including Belgium, France, and Germany, to hide sensitive information. And the company can sometimes start providing sharp images of areas that were previously presented as blurred, once restrictions are lifted.

But Google told PolitiFact that it has not recently made any “blurring changes” to its satellite images of Russia. PolitiFact asked Google if those images had always been available with that level of detail, but did not get a response to that question.

Some of the images of Russian facilities that social media users say are now suddenly visible have been available for years in high resolution on services like Google Maps and Google Earth.

One Reddit post claimed that because of the alleged change in blurring settings, it was suddenly possible to see the Russian military base of Lipetsk in greater detail. But a Russian military news website shared high-quality images of the same base in 2015 and 2021, crediting Google Earth.

Our ruling

A Facebook post claimed that following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Google Maps started publishing high-quality satellite images of Russian military facilities.

Google told PolitiFact that it has not made any changes to its satellite images of Russia. High-quality images of some of those Russian assets have been available online for years on Google services.

We rate the post False.

Source: PolitiFact.

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