Another offensive map goes viral

Aug 24, 2023, 5:10pm EDT
MrBeast attends the 2023 Nickelodeon Kids' Choice Awards
Casey Flanigan/imageSPACE/Sipa USA
J.D. Capelouto/

For his latest stunt, YouTuber and viral “philanthropist” MrBeast hosted his own Olympics, bringing together one person “from every country on Earth” and hosting a competition to win $250,000.

The map he used in the video to show which countries were in the competition, though, drew scrutiny over which nations were included, and where borders were drawn in disputed areas. It was the latest viral moment highlighting the fraught political nature of maps in popular culture.

MrBeast has waded into "the heated discourse of global affairs," TechCrunch declared, detailing the confusing and controversial mapping decisions in the video. For example, he mapped Hong Kong as its own country, but not Taiwan or Tibet. He also got blowback for including Crimea as part of Russia. The most-subscribed individual on YouTube also made some obvious mistakes, like putting the flag for the U.S. state of Georgia over the country of Georgia.1

The controversy harkened back to the row surrounding the Barbie movie, which briefly featured a cartoon map that included a dashed line near Asia; Vietnam banned the movie, claiming that the line depicted the “nine dash line,” which represents China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea. And it sparked a rebuke from some Republicans in Congress, with one suggesting that it's more than just "a Barbie map in a Barbie world."2

While the MrBeast map clearly includes some errors and is fun to joke about, drawing maps and borders in disputed areas is a near-impossible task, said George Bevan, a professor at Queen’s University in Ontario who teaches cartography. "One side's disputed territory is the other side's national identity," he told Semafor. There's no map that's universally acknowledged as the perfect map, given the number of messy border disputes.

Pop star Dua Lipa spurred controversy in 2020 when she tweeted a graphic of a map that included Albania and some of its neighboring countries, including Kosovo and parts of Serbia, as one "Greater Albania" nation.3 The idea is disputed by much of the surrounding population, and has been a source of diplomatic tension in the Balkans. "If you go and fly that particular flag" in some areas, Bevan said, "this could be cause for war."