Campaign Puts People's Racist Facebook Comments On Billboards In Their Hometowns

| by Nik Bonopartis
A billboard from Virtual Racism, Real Consequences A billboard from Virtual Racism, Real Consequences

Facebook trolls in Brazil might be doing double-takes after spotting their own inflammatory comments on roadside billboards.

An anti-racism campaign, dubbed "Virtual Racism, Real Consequences" uses geolocation info from racist Facebook posts to find the hometowns of the posters. Then the campaign rents local billboards, reproducing the ugly comments and informing passersby that the people who made those comments are their neighbors.

The group says its campaign isn't designed to shame Facebook trolls -- while the posts and content are reproduced on the billboards, the names of the posters are blurred out, and their avatars are heavily pixelated.

"We wanted to provoke a reflection. Does a comment on the internet cause less damage than a direct offense?" the group asks on its website. "For those who comment, it may be. But for those who suffer it, the prejudice is the same."

The campaign was spurred by a slew of nasty comments left on Globo TV's Facebook page after the major Brazilian network posted a feature on meteorologist Maria Julia Coutinho in honor of the country's National Day to Combat Racial Discrimination.

Coutinho, 37, rose to prominence after becoming the first black female meteorologist on a leading primetime broadcast.

Coutinho has been praised for refusing to let the racism bother her. Among the derogatory comments the Virtual Racism project has documented on billboards are messages saying that Coutinho's hair "looks like a pile of rusty screws," while others feature commenters using racial slurs for black women.

Coutinho told the website Black Women of Brazil that she concentrates on her work instead of what other people say.

"I try not to get turned around on complimentary whistles, nor on those that represent criticisms that do not construct anything," she said. "I also like this phrase: ‘What you think of me, that’s your problem.’"

In a video of pedestrian reactions to the billboards, one man told the Virtual Racism, Real Consequences project that the perceived anonymity of internet comments provides a window into how people really feel, making it clear that racism is still a problem in the country of 200 million people.

"If it's online, it's because racism exists in the people's minds, it's on the people's heart," the man said. "They need to evolve."

Sources: Virtual Racism, Real Consequences, Black Women of Brazil / Photo source: Virtual Racism, Real Consequences