Imagine if your epic Facebook burn ended up on a billboard right outside your home. You might think twice about that next online insult, right? Racist commenters in Brazil are experiencing that very scenario, thanks to a shaming campaign called Racismo Virtual, Consequências Reais, or Virtual Racism, Real Consequences.
The campaign takes real racist comments from Facebook and Twitter, and publishes them on billboards near the offender’s home, using the location information included by these online services. The names and avatars of the offenders are first pixelated to protect their identity, but still be easily recognizable to the author. “We omitted names and faces of the authors–we had no intention of exposing them,” say the organizers. The aim isn’t to provoke a vendetta, but to make that person realize that their comments exist in the real world, even when posted online.
The campaign launched after the National Day to Combat Racial Discrimination on July 3, when many people published racist comments about well-known TV weather reporter Maria Júlia Coutinho. The goal was to “provoke a reflection” on the question “does a comment on the Internet causes less damage than a direct offense?” The organization behind the campaign is called CRIOLA, and it was founded in 1992 to defend the rights of black women.
Perhaps the most interesting part is that billboard companies donated space for the ads, something I can’t see happening in the U.S., where the advertising industry is as conservative as it gets. The website even has a form so people and companies that own billboards can get in touch and donate their space.
The campaign doesn’t just shame racists. It also points out how little social pressure exists online against certain kinds of behavior. It could be argued that the perpetrators of these racist remarks are just as bad in real life, they’re just more adept at hiding it in that context. And from that point of view, you could say that Twitter and Facebook are ideal honey pots to trap otherwise well-hidden bigots.
“We just wanted to raise awareness and start a discussion,” says CRIOLA, “in order to make people think about the consequences before posting this kind of comments on the Internet. Because, after all, the worst enemy of racism is silence.”