True-Scale Map Comparing Russia to Africa Blows People's Minds

A video showing the true size of Russia compared to Africa has gone viral on TikTok as social media users learn about the misrepresentation of scale on many world maps.

First posted in late February, the video had gained around 8.5 million views as of March 14 with just under 400,000 likes.

In the video, footage of an interactive map shows an outline of Russia, which at first appears to dominate a huge section of the map. However, as the outline is dragged down towards the continent of Africa and the equator, Russia begins to shrink.

By the time the outline of Russia is placed on the equator, it is significantly smaller than it appeared at first and is dwarfed by the continent of Africa.

The video amassed thousands of comments. Some users expressed surprise or confusion that the true scale of countries, as illustrated by most world maps, is incorrect. One person asked: "Why did it get way smaller?"

Many other users expressed shock that others were unaware that most world maps do not accurately portray the size of countries. As one TikTok user noted: "It amazes me how many people didn't know this, lol." The video can be seen on TikTok here.

The reason that country sizes are warped on world maps is because many maps today illustrate the world using a layout called the Mercator projection. The Mercator projection is essentially a projection of our planet, which is a round 3D globe, onto a flat 2D map, calculated mathematically.

First introduced in 1569 by Flemish map maker Gerardus Mercator, the Mercator projection became widely used for navigation charts since it allowed navigators to plot straight-line courses between two points, according to the encyclopedia Britannica. The Mercator map can still be seen in some, but not all, world maps today with Google Maps having relied on it for many years.

The downside of the Mercator projection is that it does not show the true size of all countries. In order for a spherical globe to be projected onto a 2D plane, countries near the poles become heavily distorted in terms of size while those nearer the equator are more accurately represented.

One popular example is that, on the Mercator projection, Greenland looks to be even bigger than South America. In reality, Greenland, with a landmass of around 836,000 square miles, is not even close to being as large as South America, which has a landmass of around 6.8 million square miles. This is because Greenland is close to the north pole while South America is close to the equator.

Internet users can see this effect for themselves by opening up Google Maps with globe view disabled and then looking again with globe view enabled. In globe view, countries near the poles should look a lot smaller than they did in the 2D view.

Russia is an undeniably huge country, but its northern region, like Greenland, is close to the north pole so its size is significantly warped on the Mercator projection, such that Russia appears to dwarf every other landmass—in reality, it does not.

The popular TikTok video was made using online map tool The True Size, which allows users to drag the outline of countries around a 2D map and see how they truly compare to one another near the equator.

World globe
A stock photo shows someone pointing to the continent of Africa on a world globe. In world maps that use the Mercator projection, some country sizes are heavily distorted. PJPhoto69/Getty