Quotes That World Leaders Wanted Suppressed Are Now Billboards in Google Street View

Reporters Without Borders Sweden gives voice to silenced journalists

Photoshopped images, uploaded to Streetview, feature quotes such as this from an editor blocked on Twitter by Donald Trump. Reporters Without Borders Sweden
Headshot of David Griner

The Swedish branch of global advocacy group Reporters Without Borders has been planting digital Easter eggs around the world, and they might come as quite a shock to those who stumble across them.

Working with Stockholm-based agency Åkestam Holst, the organization has been altering billboards in Google Street View so that they feature quotes critical of world leaders. They call the project “Billboards Beyond Borders.”

In some cases, the comments came from journalists who’ve been jailed or even executed for speaking out. In others—such as the altered Times Square billboard shown above—the context is a bit less severe (the quoted journalist, judicial affairs editor Rebecca Buckwalter-Poza, writes for the liberal-leaning Daily Kos and was blocked on Twitter by President Donald Trump for this tweet).

The stunt works by uploading Photoshopped spherical images into Google Maps, replacing the real Street View with a slightly (but noticeably) altered version.

Moscow, Russia

If you’re wondering if this is against Google’s rules—well yes, yes it is.

“Contributions must be based on real experiences and information,” Google says in its Maps Photo Policy. “Deliberately fake content, copied or stolen photos, off-topic reviews, defamatory language, personal attacks, and unnecessary or incorrect content are all in violation of our policy.”

So while the images are definitely visible for now, you probably shouldn’t expect them to stick around long.

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.”

Bangkok, Thailand
Istanbul, Turkey
Bangalore, India
Harare, Zimbabwe
St. Julian's, Malta


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@griner david.griner@adweek.com David Griner is creative and innovation editor at Adweek and host of Adweek's podcast, "Yeah, That's Probably an Ad."