A series of billboards questioning the status quo and chastising world leaders has appeared on Google Street View, which then the internet giant promptly removed. The billboards were made in a campaign to combat censorship and promote freedom of speech and expression.
The Swedish subdivision of “Reporters Without Borders” worked together with the agency of Akestam Holt to alter a number of billboards in the street view of Swedish Google Maps. The signs all bear the same simple style of black text on white base, and are part of an anti-censorship campaign called “Billboards Without Borders.”
Google, however, has removed the virtual posters. The president of the Swedish Reporters, Jonathan Lundqvist, stated that he considers this action akin to censorship, further commenting that he finds it ‘ironic’ how fast a campaign promoting freedom of speech and expression has been closed down.
Google itself stated that the removal of the billboards was because they violated the policy of Google Maps, which reads that the images must represent real information and that falsified content and personal attacks violate this policy.
Lundqvist states that censorship does not necessarily mean censoring content for the sake of it, but the outcomes are the same regardless; being silenced in places where it is essential to be heard.
One such billboard appeared next to St Basil’s Cathedral in the Red Square of Moscow. The sign read, “Being gay is normal,” in reference to a school teacher’s interview with the Russian paper Molodai Dalnevostochnik. The newspaper’s editor, Alexander Suturin, was then fined for breaking the law that bans the propagation of “gay propaganda,” especially among minors.
An additional billboard was viewable on Broadway, New York City. This one read “Russia won the White House for you, Donald Trump.” This New York Billboard Without Borders is similar to a tweet from Rebecca Buckwalter-Poza that she directed at the current president of the United States. After being blocked by Trump for the Twitter post, the writer then joined forces with a group to file a lawsuit opposing the president’s actions.
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A sign in Istanbul, Turkey, called the country’s president a “megalomaniac dictator.” The sign further read that this is what reporter Ebru Umar said about president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in a newspaper, for which she was “arrested and blocked from leaving Turkey” in 2016.
Reporters Without Borders said that they downloaded a number 360-degree sphere from Google Maps, changed them using Photoshop, and then re-uploaded the altered spheres. In the campaign to fight censorship and promote freedom of speech and expression, the company aimed to “put silenced words on the map again” by displaying statements that people would not be comfortable saying in their respective environments. The billboards’ statements would incur — and indeed they have — heavy punishments were they expressed in real life.
Visit the campaign’s site here: http://www.billboardsbeyondborders.com