Justice

One Organization Has a Genius Approach to Fighting Racism on Facebook

Racism exists in many forms — some subtle, others pronounced — but nowhere is racism more readily apparent than it is online. Social media networks such as Facebook serve as unfiltered platforms for individual expression, allowing racist people to share, like, and comment on racist posts.

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The personas that people adopt on Facebook might not reflect how they behave and socialize in real life because many seem to have the false perception that what they say on social media is without consequence. But the truth is, racism on social media does have real life effects, and that's why a Brazilian nonprofit organization, Criola, launched "Virtual Racism, Real Consequences," a campaign that highlights the issue by plastering racist Facebook posts on billboards.

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In an effort to demonstrate the impact of racism on social media, Criola identifies racist posts, uses location data to determine where the post originated, and rents out billboards in the area to display the comments. They blur the profile photos and names of those behind the posts, but the text is kept for all to see.

"We want to achieve mobilization," Jurema Werneck, the founder of Criola, told ATTN:. "Racism is increasing and it's time for the people who are not participating in the fight against racism to come and do their part."

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The idea for the billboard campaign came after Brazilian journalist Maria Coutinho, the first Black weather forecaster on a prime-time television station in the country, encountered a surge of racist comments on Facebook. She had corrected another anchor on-air in July, and when a different news organization praised her for the correction, some Facebook users reacted by posting racist comments, Business Insider reported.

Now Criola is reposting those comments on billboards in cities across Brazil, to show people that what they say online isn't innocuous. The targets of racism on social media are real people who are affected by these comments in real life.

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The effects of online racism include "fear, humiliation, pain, despair, sadness," Werneck said. "There are a lot of consequences for the victims. It is real. [Racists] believes that [they're] comfortable and anonymous inside the internet. We need to stop racists and that's why we created this campaign. We don't want this. There's a ethical limit and we need to underline that."

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