This article first appeared in Stonewall UK’s International Campaigner’s Toolkit
Slovo is a six-minute online interactive documentary created by the Russian LGBT Network and the Interactive Arts Workshop, which proclaims: ‘the story told in this film is just as personal as your own experience of interacting with it and just as infinite as every individual’s inner world’.
Throughout the documentary nine people from different vulnerable social groups in Russia read real examples of hate speech collected from the internet without any preparation. At one point in the documentary, one of the participants asks the camera, ‘May I please not read this?’ delivering the effective message that hate speech is hurtful and destructive no matter who it impacts.
At the beginning of the documentary, the viewer is prompted with a line encouraging people to interact with the film, saying: ‘Your experience depends on you. Hold the space bar when it fits.’ At any point during the documentary, holding down the space bar brings the viewer to a different video stream playing news footage of acts of injustice and hate. By interacting with the document, the viewer is no longer passive, but rather someone who is actively engaging with various forms of hate speech and how it impacts them.
Framed as an art project and not as a human rights documentary, with the aim of reaching a larger audience, the Russian LGBT Network didn’t attach their name to it, hoping more people would engage with it without dismissing it right away. In part due to the provocative content of the documentary, the response was mixed. While there was an expected negative online response from far right and anti-LGBT groups, there was a small section of people who were concerned about the participants’ and viewers’ wellbeing, as much of the hate speech could be deemed as triggering. However, the positive feedback was overwhelming with viewers describing the documentary as revealing because they didn’t realise how impactful hate speech could be. The reactions from the participants in particular illustrate how words and actions are interconnected and reinforce each other, revealing how violent language fuels persecution.
The reactions to the documentary speak to the emotional impact storytelling has on people. The emotional chord it struck with varying audiences proves its effectiveness. So far, there have been over 20,000 visits to the website to view Slovo, and the number continues to grow.
Update: The campaign had to be taken off line soon after its launch due to legal battles over permissions. According to the Russian network, the agency in charge had not secured the necessary authorisations from all people involved. A lesson for campaigners from the network : “Be in control of all stages of the campaign. Don’t take anything for granted. Even if it takes a lot of time, make sure you double check everything!”