World

Brazilian anti-racism group shames online trolls by putting them on billboards

Racismo Virtual

 (Racismo Virtual)

The anonymity and short memory of the web has allowed many users to feel like they can voice hateful, racists vitriol without any fear of repercussions.

That was, however, one group in Brazil decided to flip the script of these online trolls.

Using the geo-tagging tools on Twitter and Facebook, Criola, a civil rights organization run by Afro-Brazilian women, helped set up a campaign called "Virtual racism, real consequences" that collects racially-tinged comments posted on social media and then prints those comments on billboards in the area where they live.

While the names and photos of the social media users may be pixilated out, Criola's founder Jurema Werneck told the BBC that the point of the campaign is less about publicly shaming people and instead more about encouraging people to speak out against 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,” she said. “We don't let that happen. They can't hide from us. We will find them."

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Another reason for the billboards, Werneck said, was that despite laws against racial abuse in Brazil the authorities have not done enough to curb it.

The impetus for the campaign began when a television personality for Nacional Jornal, Maria Julia Coutinho – who is known by the nickname "Maju" – became the country's first black prime time weather presenter, and a slew of racist comments were posted on the program's Facebook page. The racially-charged comments, however, were overwhelmed by thousands of messages expressing support for Coutinho – or at least expressing outrage over the racial comments.

"I just printed of all the comments on this post, and I will report them to the appropriate authorities. Racism is a crime," said one Facebook user.

Afro-Brazilians make up 7.6 percent of the population according to the country's 2010 census, and mixed-race Brazilians make up another 43 percent of the population.

While the response to the "Virtual racism, real consequences" campaign has been generally supportive, some people have complained that online harassment is widespread and not targeted at one group in particular.

"Everyone gets abuse on the Internet, not just black people," said one commenter on the Porto Alegre news site, Zero Hora. "If you don't want to be offended, don't go on the Internet."

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