Troll Shaming Activists Post Racist Comments… Outside Racist Trolls’ Houses

A new advertising campaign has kicked off in Brazil with activist group Criola identifying the location of racist trolls and then displaying their racist comments on gigantic billboards near their houses.

The campaign is called “Virtual Racism, Real Consequences” and was reportedly initiated after the Facebook page of Jornal Nacional came under sustained attack by racist trolls targeting black weather presenter Maria Julia Coutinho. Criola, an activism group run by and for Afro-Brazilian women, collects the comments of racist trolls and then geolocates them. Once this is done, billboard space is bought and the racist troll’s comments are displayed in huge letters in their area. Criola has stated that it isn’t interested in “exposing individuals,” so names and faces are pixelated. The thinking behind the campaign is more about taking these comments away from the safe and anonymous environment of the Internet and putting them out into the real world.

Criola founder Jurema Werneck spoke to BBC Trending about the intentions behind the campaign against racist trolls.

“[These] 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.”

She went on to say that the campaign was more about encouraging people to speak out about online racism and hate speech than it was about shaming any individual racist trolls. Racist hate speech is actually an offense punishable by imprisonment in Brazil but many, including Werneck, don’t feel that enough is being done. Werneck has stated that not only is the government somewhat slack in its pursuit of these crimes, but that people in general are far too tolerant of racist trolls and hate speech in general. Her campaign aims to fix this by bringing these comments into the light of day.

The photo of Couthino was posted on July 3, which is a national day against racism in Brazil. Initially, racist trolls inundated the site with abuse, often sexually charged, but they were soon overwhelmed by messages of support, many of which came from Brazilians who are not black. The damage, however, was already done with many commentators shocked by the virulence of the hate campaign undertaken by the racist trolls. Criola’s campaign was initiated soon afterward and has been running ever since.

Racist trolls targeted by billboards
A disproportionate number of Afro-Brazilians live in nightmarish conditions in Brazil's favelas. [Photo by Getty Images/Mario Tama]

There has been a mixed reaction to the billboards targeting racist trolls. Debates on social media have mainly swung in favor of the campaign with many users saying it is “just” and pointing out that racism is a criminal offense in Brazil. Some, however, are not convinced. The racist trolls themselves are likely unhappy, but there are others who believe that the billboards are an overreaction. Some commentators point out that abuse on the Internet is “normal,” and that many non-black identities attract trolls as well. “If you don’t want to be offended, don’t go on the internet,” was the reaction of one commenter.

racist trolls targeted by billboards
Hearteningly, Maria has received many more messages of support than abuse. [Photo via Facebook]

Brazil has a long and troubled history with race relations. There has long been a sharp divide between Brazilians of African and non-African descent, with this line being expressed in socio-economic inequality. While over half of Brazilians identify as “black” or “brown,” Brazilians of European descent earn, on average, twice as much as Afro-Brazilians. Afro-Brazilians also make up half of the population of Brazil’s crime-ridden favelas, whereas they are less than 7 percent of the population in other, more affluent neighborhoods. According to The Economist, race has long been a highly-sensitive issue for Brazil, which has been struggling with racial inequality and the legacy of the slave trade for many years now. Brazil was a disproportionately heavy participant in the Atlantic slave trade, and the last nation in the Americas to put a stop to the trade in 1888.

What do you think? Will targeting racist trolls in Brazil hurt or help race relations?

[Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images]