The scourge of racist online trolls is nothing new, but dealing with them is never easy. Engaging with trolls just makes them worse, and getting their accounts removed will usually result in them popping up somewhere else in a different guise. But now, a Brazilian campaign called ‘virtual racism, real consequences’ is fighting back against internet hate speech by displaying racist posts on huge billboards near the homes of those who post them.
The campaign is backed by Criola, a civil rights organization run by Afro-Brazilian women. The group collects racist comments posted on Facebook or Twitter and uses geolocation tools to find out where the people who have posted them live. Criola then rents billboard space near the location and posts the comments for all to see, although they do pixelate the names and faces.
The campaign came about after black weather presenter Maria Julio Coutinho was targeted by hundreds of racist trolls when her photo was posted on the Facebook page of Nacional Journal, a prime-time news show.
Criola's founder, Jurema Werneck, says the campaign is intended to encourage people to speak out and report racism. "Those people [who post abuse online] think they can sit in the comfort of their homes and do whatever they want on the internet. We don't let that happen. They can't hide from us, we will find them.”
The campaign website says: “We omit names and faces of the authors because we have no intention of exposing anyone. We just want to educate people so that in future they think about the consequences before posting racist comments.”
Werneck says the campaign, which has been running since summer, has received mostly positive responses from the public, including many from Brazilians who aren’t black. To what extent ‘virtual racism, real consequences’ will curb online racism in the country remains to be seen, but at least the campaign is drawing attention to the issue.