Ron DeSantis shows picture of San Francisco ‘poop map’ during debate. Is it real?

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Depending on what side of the aisle you’re on, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis flashing an image of the “San Francisco poop map” at the Thursday night debate against Gov. Gavin Newsom was one of two things: shrewd political stagecraft that crystallized the Democrat-led decline of one of America’s greatest cities, or an embarrassment not befitting the debate stage or a presidential campaign.

“This is an app where they plot the human feces that are found on the streets of San Francisco,” DeSantis said, referring to the image.

All that sidewalk poop is “what has happened to one of the previous greatest cities this country’s ever had.”

“That’s just such, such nonsense,” Newsom countered with audible laughter.

But wherever you fall politically, you’re probably wondering what the poop map even is.

SnapCrap and Open the Books: poop meets tech

About five years ago, a new-to-San Francisco east coaster named Sean Miller launched an app called SnapCrap — a play on the then-popular SnapChat social media app. Miller moved to the bay in 2017 from Vermont, hoping to land a job in tech, but wrote that “it took me about 1 day to realize that this place was in major trouble,” in a 2019 story.

After lamenting the state of the city’s trash and waste problem over beers with his roommates, as well as the slow-moving SF311 program where residents can report such issues to the city’s Public Works department, the idea for SnapCrap was born. (It’s not the first time, and likely not the last, that a tech entrepreneur will invent a superfluous and privatized version of something that already exists.)

“To be completely honest, I never thought the app would go viral the way it did,” he wrote in 2019. “I remember thinking that if a few hundred people downloaded it I would be shocked.”

SnapCrap appears to no longer exist, but it was one of many apps — like NextDoor and Ring — that allowed neighborhood residents to track and police their own streets.

A year after Miller’s SnapCrap went live, the website Open The Books launched the data map that DeSantis used onstage at the debate on Thursday, mapping the 118,352 reported instances of poop on San Francisco’s city streets from 2011-2019 — so, not a current collection of, um, data, but a historical one.

Early Friday morning, after DeSantis flaunted the map to the debate’s 5.5 million viewers, the folks at Open The Table updated it to reflect current numbers. They found an additional 125,506 reports since 2020, bringing the total number of reports since 2011 to roughly 270,000.

Open The Books is “a project of American Transparency” founded by conservative spending watchdog Adam Andrzejewski. Per the website’s FAQ: “The material on this website comes from a number of souces (sic) and was obtained under the Freedom of Information Act which includes: U.S. Office of Management and USPS.”

DeSantis’ map stunt was ‘a low point’

The poop map stunt was unsurprisingly a hit among conservatives. California Republican Party Executive Director Bryan Watkins even wrote Friday on X, formerly known as Twitter, if someone could “point me to the (poop emoji) app Ron DeSantis mentioned” as he wanted to make a report on a sighting in downtown Sacramento, “a couple blocks away from (Newsom’s) office.”

It was also criticized by pundits and politicos.

“The stunt backfired,” wrote Lloyd Green, a former U.S. Department of Justice attorney, in a scathing piece for the Guardian. “Right now, it’s DeSantis’s campaign that seems to be the raging dung heap.”

“The ‘Poop Map’ was a low point in an otherwise informative event,” said Professor Aaron Kall, lecturer and Director of Debate at the University of Michigan debate program.

“While the “Poop Map” may have garnered click-bait headlines and provided a short-term boost with his political base, voters usually expect presidential candidates to express humanity and empathize with those less fortunate who are suffering,” Kall said.

“DeSantis would have been better off spending his time on stage talking about specific programs he may have implemented in Florida that could serve as a model for California and the rest of the country who continue to deal with these difficult social issues.”

Mike Madrid, moderate Republican consultant, said the stunt represents an increasing lack of purpose in political debates.

“Debates are no longer productive in moving public opinion because of this type of thing,” said Madrid.

“When performance and shock value replace substance and ideas the only purpose of a debate is spectacle. That’s what this was.”

This story has been updated to reflect the most up-to-date amount of reported cases of poop on San Francisco’s streets.