Internet Trolls, Beware: Your Racist Comments Could End Up On A Billboard

Photo: Juarez Godoy/Racismo Virtual.
Too often, the internet is an outlet for bigots to spew hateful remarks, with little to no consequences. Racist, sexist, or otherwise offensive comments on blogs and on news outlets' comments sections might get deleted, but since many users are posting under pseudonyms, there aren't any repercussions for the person behind the screen. But the activists behind a new campaign in Brazil hope to change that.

"Virtual racism, real consequences" is exposing bigoted comments users post on Twitter and Facebook. The group uses the social networks' geolocation features to figure out where the culprits behind the comments live, and it posts their comments on billboards near the offenders' homes. As of now, the campaign is sticking with Facebook and Twitter messages, which are easier to track than anonymous remarks left on blogs and news sites. The activists blur the commenters' names and photos in the billboards, but friends may still recognize the authors if they've seen the comments online.

For example, one of the racist comments highlighted on the billboards reads, "If you washed properly, you wouldn't be so dirty." Another billboard features a comment mocking Afro-Brazilian journalist Maria Júlia Coutinho for her race. The campaign was inspired by intolerant messages on the Facebook page of Brazil's Jornal Nacional news program, aimed at a Black weather presenter. The post about Coutinho appeared on Jornal Nacional in July, and the "Virtual racism, real consequences" campaign has been creating billboards since the summer.

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"Those people 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," Jurema Werneck, the founder of Criola, the civil-rights organization behind the campaign, told BBC News. Criola is run by Afro-Brazilians, and many of the comments the campaign has exposed are biased against Black people, who account for 7.6 percent of Brazil's population. Forty-three percent of Brazilians, meanwhile, are ethnically mixed, according to BBC News.
Werneck hopes that the campaign's billboards will inspire others to speak out against racism and to report incidences of racial abuse, which is a crime in Brazil, to authorities. Werneck told BBC News that Brazilians might be afraid to speak out against racism, and she hopes the campaign will empower them to do so.

Many people in Brazil and across the globe have lauded Criola for creating the campaign and calling out racism. One person on Criola's Facebook page called the internet commenter behind one billboard a "fool," and another said it was "regrettable" that anyone would make such offensive comments. Twitter users, meanwhile, added that "racism is unacceptable," lauding the "well-done" campaign.
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Still, not everyone is on board with the new campaign. One Twitter user posted a link to BBC News' story on the billboards, writing that "suspected racism is now a thought-crime." Trolls will troll — but Criola's "Virtual racism, real consequences" campaign could help make online comments like these less frequent.
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