Google Maps flooded with ‘digital billboards’ critiquing the world’s worst leaders—including Trump

Reporters Without Borders Sweden / YouTube Billboards Beyond Borders...
Reporters Without Borders Sweden / YouTube

Donald Trump has a pesky little habit of blocking those who critique him on his beloved Twitter—including Daily Kos writer Rebecca Buckwalter-Poza, who is suing him for it.

Blocked by Trump on Twitter. Attribution: screen capture, maps.google.se

It’s wholly unoriginal behavior for a budding despot, of course, and it’s no surprise or secret that the Blond Bloviator is resistant to criticism, often to the point of delusion. The spray-tanned Twitter fanatic-in chief decries factual presidential coverage as “fake news” when it’s negative, and revels in the artificial praise from his acolytes at Fox News.

In a new digital campaign, the Swedish arm of Reporters Beyond Borders is amplifying words that Trump, and leaders like him, would prefer to never hear, and highlighting the dangers of limiting freedom of both speech and the press.

The project, Billboards Beyond Borders, is as clever as it is simple. Suppressed quotes from journalists around the world are Photoshopped and uploaded as spherical photos to Google Maps, where they can be seen in Street View mode. The photos won’t be up long, of course—the project is a clear violation of Google’s ToS—but as AdWeek notes, longevity isn’t the goal here.

For the Swedish nonprofit, the goal isn’t permanence so much as awareness.

“We want to acknowledge the journalists who have been silenced and republish their messages,” says Jonathan Lundqvist, president of Reporters Without Borders Sweden. “No regimes should get away with threatening, censoring or arresting any members of the press. Now the messages are back where they belong: in meter-high letters in public places in the center of the countries ruled by censorship. The freedom of the press and freedom of speech should not be stoppable.”

This digital billboard in Malta highlights the words that got a blogger killed. Attribution: screen capture, maps.google.se

The billboards placed so far illuminate the real dangers of covering bad people with too much power: in Moscow, we’re reminded that simply saying that “Being gay is normal” cost one reporter 50,000 rubles, while in Bangalore, India, acknowledging that “Women should not be treated as second-class creatures” led to another journalist being shot to death.

Shot. To. Death. Attribution: screen capture, maps.google.se

The campaign gives some perspective on the perils of speaking truth to power when institutional power is held by maniacs, how wide the spectrum of fascism can be, and how quickly it can grow. While in the States we can still critique the propaganda coming out of Sinclair stations, or enjoy Alec Baldwin’s new purpose in life, those guarantees may not last, if Trump has his way.

Daily Kos writer Buckwalter-Poza had no idea her words would end up on Times Square. Already in bed for the night, she was clearing out her inbox when she saw a Google alert for her name.

It came as a surprise: I didn’t know until Google alerted me.

It’s an amazing project, and I’m proud to be included. I have infinite respect for the project and the journalists who inspired it.

In an interview Saturday morning, Buckwalter-Poza emphasized the contrast between being blocked by Trump on Twitter, while journalists elsewhere face prison, hefty fines, and are literally losing their lives.

These billboards are heartbreaking: “last post before being killed,” for example.

The First Amendment is under attack here, so I’m glad they’re drawing attention to that even as they remind us that the mechanisms for suppressing speech in the US are so much less grave than those in other countries.

She’s right. It could be so much worse. Which is why Trump and all who support his tyrannical ways must be stopped.

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2 Comments on "Google Maps flooded with ‘digital billboards’ critiquing the world’s worst leaders—including Trump"

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dkclark
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dkclark

Love the billboards, rock on free press.!

twayner
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twayner

You can’t help but love them, in fact! They’re so … factual! True! And impossible to ignore when you see them!
tRump’s in great company there, and leads the world’s records of despots and other super-deplorable mentally sick despot wanna-be’s.