If you used Google Street View to scroll through the streets of St Julian’s in the past 24 hours, you may have noticed something a little out of place.
A massive billboard bearing the famous last words of assassinated journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia ‘There are crooks everywhere you look now, the situation is desperate’ appears to have been plastered right in front of the Eden Cinemas.
It is not a real billboard though, but a digital sleight of hand by the Swedish branch of Reporters Without Borders as part of a project to broadcast quotes world leaders want suppressed on Google Street View.
Malta is one of seven countries on the list, along with Zimbabwe, India, Turkey, Thailand, Russia, and the United States. The quotes are country-specific; for example, the one in Turkey features a critical quote of the Turkish president that recently got a Dutch journalist arrested and the one in the USA features a tweet that saw a journalist blocked from following Donald Trump’s Twitter page.
Working with Stockholm-based agency Akestam Holst, Reporters Without Borders uploaded Photoshopped spherical images into Google Maps, replacing the real Street View with their own version.
The stunt works by uploading Photoshopped spherical images into Google Maps, replacing the real Street View with a slightly (but noticeably) altered version. It goes against Google’s rules, and in fact the billboards have already been ‘pulled down’.
However, Reporters Without Borders said the aim of the project was not permanence but awareness.
“We want to acknowledge the journalists who have been silenced and republish their messages,” said Jonathan Lundqvist, president of RFB 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.”