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Advocacy Group Fights Internet Trolls in the Real World

Advocacy Group Fights Internet Trolls in the Real World

The openness of the Internet is heralded as one of its virtues. An Internet connection gives people access to information from all over the world, but that openness can also be a drawback. Internet users who spark controversy and complaint, known as trolls, hide behind the anonymity of their Internet comments. Such anonymity allows them to lash out at individuals without legal repercussion.

Now, a group in Brazil has formed a campaign to fight racist comments and harassment by trolls. But in doing so, it’s not fighting the trolls on the Internet. Rather, it’s taking the fight into the real world, and by most accounts, it’s working.

The campaign is called Virtual Racism, Real Consequences and was formed by Criola, a civil rights advocacy group coordinated by Afro-Brazilian women. When a troll makes a harassing Facebook comment or racist Tweet, Criola uses geolocation tools to find out where the troll lives. It then erects a billboard posting the troll’s comment in the city where the troll lives, explains the BBC. Virtual Racism, Real Consequences limits its shaming efforts by blurring out the identity of the troll on the billboard, but this sort of real world shaming seems to be working. It has led trolls to delete their Internet comments.

“Those people [who post abuse online] think they can sit in the comfort of their homes and do whatever they want on the [I]nternet,” Criola founder Jurema Werneck tells the BBC. “We don’t let that happen. They can’t hide from us, we will find them.”

Virtual Racism, Real Consequences was created as a response to racist Facebook comments posted about Afro-Brazilian television journalist Maria Julia Coutinho. Those comments were outnumbered by the thousands of positive messages posted in support of Coutinho, according to the BBC. However, the incident also pointed out how Brazilian law can fall short in addressing Internet racism. Brazil has laws punishing hate speech. Brazil also has laws governing the Internet – the Marco Civil encompasses aspects such as privacy, security, and access. Nonetheless, these laws can’t punish people who hide behind the anonymity that the Internet allows.

Criola’s campaign has not ended racism in Brazil, but the group’s efforts stand as an example of a creative way to fight racism in the real world when Brazilian law falls short of quashing it on the Internet.