On Wednesday, Twitter users started posting pictures of a mislabeled map that was broadcast by CNN. The network, attempting to portray the countries that had cases of Ebola, had mistaken Niger for Nigeria:
— Gimba Kakanda (@gimbakakanda) August 6, 2014
The confusion provoked angry reactions from many Twitter users. It would not be the first time CNN has mapped cities or countries far away from their actual position, however:
— Colin Miner (@cominer) October 7, 2013
— Malice Magic (@malicemagic) May 11, 2014
US TV knowledge of Britain. pic.twitter.com/DOv2XuqxTj
— David Eckhoff (@theroyalfactor) February 9, 2014
As you can see, CNN has mapping issues not only in Africa, but also in Europe and Asia. And it's far from the only news outlet to make such an error. Earlier this year, NBC News anchor Brian Williams began his broadcast by saying: “Tonight it now feels as if the world is aware and responding to the kidnapping of 276 girls in Kenya three weeks ago today." In reality, the kidnappings had taken place in Nigeria.
The pressures of live television make mistakes like these understandable. However, many Twitter users seem to perceive the recent Nigeria-Niger confusion as just another example of ignorance by Western media outlets. Other examples are easy to come by. In 2010, a BBC series on Nigeria's most populous city, Lagos, featuring the lives of slum dwellers, drew criticism for its potrayal of the city, which many felt was not accurate. One year later, international media came under attack on Twitter during the Somalia famine for showing up only "when there were dying children to film," according to Reuters.
In an article for the Guardian published in 2013, Nigerian journalist Remi Adekoya offered an explanation for why some have such strong feelings about how journalists cover the continent: "Africans, especially those living abroad, fret about the perception of their continent and its inhabitants because their future often depends on the opinions of those in whose country they reside," Adekoya wrote. "Each major news item presenting Africa in a negative light is viewed by these folk as something that will make their working lives that bit harder."
While CNN's on-air mislabeling sparked a major backlash on Twitter, many Americans might not have noticed the flawed map. On Friday, in honor of the U.S.-African Leaders Summit taking place in D.C. this week, The Washington Post published a quiz that asked readers to find countries from the African continent on a map.
According to data from more than 40,000 respondents, the countries were identified correctly less than half of the time. Although Niger and Nigeria did not rank among the least-recognized countries (those would be Gambia and Guinea-Bissau), they were correctly identified only by 43 percent and 48 percent, respectively.