Fondation Emergence makes online hate hard to ignore

The non-profit used provocative wild postings to fight the spread of homophobic and transphobic comments on social.

An unforgiveable number of homophobic and transphobic comments made online are ignored. But it’s a lot harder to look the other way when those same hateful messages are plastered in large font on billboards for all to see.

Even though homosphobic and transphobic comments are believed to appear online every 23 seconds, little is done by social networks to remove them. Yet when 74 of those same online posts – many of which have been online for years – began appearing as wild postings in downtown Montreal, a dozen calls were made to police, who had them taken down within 20 minutes (they were supposed to be up for several days).

(Content warning: this video contains language that includes anti-gay slurs and messages invoking violence towards LGBTQ people.)

The awareness campaign, dubbed “Brutal Postings,” was organized by agency Rethink on behalf of Fondation Émergence, a Montreal non-profit that advocates for inclusion of LGBTQ+ individuals, and timed with the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia on May 17. The effort comes as a follow-up to last year’s award-winning “Pride Flag’ installation, which showed that working together is the best way to support LGBT communities around the world.

Xavier Blais, creative director at Rethink’s Montreal office, explained in an email to strategy that the idea was to make the often overlooked messages “unignorable,” with the goal of ultimately getting people to take the time to report or flag them as inappropriate more often online.

As social media companies continue to grapple with how to address the spread of offensive messages on their platforms, reporting comments (as people were clearly more willing to do in “real life”) is the best way to help resolve cyberhate, Blais said.

A video capturing Fondation Émergence ’s social experiment shows some pedestrians staring at the wild postings in shock, while others curse their existence and demand that they be taken down. The hope with the campaign is that, one day, everyone will react as strongly online.