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Trolling – freedom of speech or freedom to abuse?

To say trolling is getting out of hand would be an understatement. But what emerged last week was something we haven’t been as familiar with – offline trolling. The internet trolls have become real-life trolls, a scary prospect indeed.

Earlier this month, a group who call themselves the ‘Overweight Haters Ltd.’ decided to attack innocent Londoners on a ‘fat-shaming’ hate campaign handing out cards to women on the Underground branding them as ‘fat, ugly humans’.

Although this hateful act has taken place offline in the real world, it is reported that the ‘middle-aged man’ to blame was quick to flee the scene, handing his flyers and then running away, showing the same characteristics as an online troll – cowardliness and a lack of interest in debating his ‘opinions’.

Overweight Haters

Overweight Haters took trolling offline, ‘fat shaming’ people on the Underground.

 

As a flurry of Twitter support poured in there was of course still the usual ‘twitter trolls’ out to body-shame the women who don’t conform to society’s ‘ideal shape’.

Luckily plus size fashion company Navabi stepped in to spread the joy, registering a domain in the name of the hateful group and creating cards to tell commuters that they ‘look great’ to boost self-esteem amongst the female community. A fantastic PR response!

So how do internet trolls justify their anti-social, unkind behaviour? Of course they maintain that it is their right to freedom of speech – if you don’t like it, leave the internet or in the case of Overweight Haters Ltd, just don’t be ‘fat and ugly’ but must we all risk falling subject to their abuse online and offline just because it is their right to speak freely? Freedom of speech should stimulate debate not personally attack.

A group of activists in Brazil have decided to take a stand and are giving trolls a taste of their own medicine by plastering their racist comments on billboards right near their homes.

The campaign – named ‘Virtual Racism, Real Consequences’ is led by civil rights group Criola. According to the BBC, Criola are using geolocation on Facebook and Twitter to find out where people have sent the abuse from and then buying up local advertising space to republish the messages.

internet-trolls-brazil-criola

Criola fought back, sending a clear message that trolling would not be tolerated.

 

Criola’s founder Jurema Werneck told the BBC: “Those 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.” Genius I say! Although this campaign does not expose the names and faces of the attackers, it sends a clear message to trolls: messages of hate, racism and prejudice will have real-life repercussions.

We can only hope this makes some trolls think twice before they post online (or hand out flyers) as the lines between the two worlds become increasingly blurred…

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