Friday, May 24, 2024

‘Blockout’ campaign aims at silence of celebraties on Gaza genocide 

A growing online movement is calling for the mass blocking of celebrities on social media who have stayed quiet about the devastating Israeli assault on Gaza.

The “Blockout 2024” campaign took off after outrage over influencer Haley Kalil’s perceived insensitivity toward the Gaza crisis at this year’s Met Gala on May 6th. Kalil, who has 9.9 million TikTok followers, posted a video of herself lip-syncing “let them eat cake” while decked out in an elaborate Marie Antoinette-inspired floral outfit outside the Met Gala.

The notorious quote, though likely apocryphal, has become a symbol of the elite’s obliviousness to the struggles of the masses. With Israeli bombardment killing over 34,900 Palestinian civilians in Gaza and causing widespread hunger, Kalil’s video struck a nerve.

In the besieged Palestinian enclave of Rafah, over 1.5 million displaced Gazans have sought refuge from Israel’s intense military campaign. But they face deteriorating conditions and severe shortages of food, water, and medical supplies as the bombardment shows no signs of letting up.  Just two days before the Met Gala, the UN had warned of “full-blown famine” in northern Gaza as the relentless assault disrupted food supplies. Dramatic footage of Palestinian children killed in strikes on Rafah has further stoked global outrage.

Apology Video Fails to Douse Flames

In a May 10th apology video, Kalil said she did not attend the Met Gala but was hosting coverage for E! News. She claimed the “let them eat cake” audio was simply a trending sound on TikTok.

“I am not informed enough to talk about it in a meaningful or educational way,” Kalil said, not explicitly mentioning Gaza, Palestine or Israel.

Her apology did little to quell the backlash. As horrific scenes of civilian suffering in Rafah filled media reports, outraged viewers denounced Kalil for her perceived insensitivity. They began calling for a collective blocking campaign against celebrities staying silent amid the escalating humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

Rise of the “Digital Guillotine”

Activists have started calling this blocking effort the “digitine” – a digital guillotine meant to punish celebrities who haven’t used their massive platforms to condemn the Israeli assault ravaging places like Rafah.

Targets range from actors like Gal Gadot and Noah Schnapp to influencers like Kim Kardashian, and musicians like Harry Styles and Taylor Swift. Lists naming hundreds of celebrities to block have spread rapidly across TikTok, Instagram and Twitter (now X).

The goal is to hurt stars’ earnings from social media advertising by slashing their audience numbers through blocking. While unfollowing has minimal impact, experts say blocking hampers celebrities’ visibility and reach across platforms.

“A reduction in visibility can lead advertisers to perceive the celebrity as less valuable, potentially cutting back on the amount they are willing to pay for ads on the celebrity’s profile, thereby directly affecting their ad revenue,” said Eddy Borges-Rey, a Northwestern University researcher studying social media algorithms.

While the campaign has gained major traction online, some have criticized it as mere “performative activism” that diverts attention from more substantive efforts to support Palestinians in Gaza and refugees fleeing to Rafah.

“We’re doing what we did with the BLM: focusing all our energy into celebrity shaming instead of actively pressuring our politicians,” one Reddit user wrote.

Others argue the campaign is having a real impact, with some celebrities like Lizzo beginning to address the crisis and share links for humanitarian fundraisers, likely to avoid being blocked themselves.

The grassroots “digitine” signals growing impatience with highly visible celebrities staying silent on an escalating humanitarian catastrophe – and demonstrates the power of collective action on social media to apply public pressure.

Early Signs of Effectiveness   

While overall blocking numbers are unclear, reports indicate the campaign may already be inflicting follower losses that could threaten stars’ earning power.

NPR reported Saturday that Taylor Swift lost roughly 300,000 followers on TikTok and 50,000 on Instagram over the past week, overlapping with the spread of “Blockout 2024.”

“They live off of our attention,” one X user commented. “If they don’t have any, they cease to exert their influence.”

Whether the campaign builds further steam or fizzles out, it has opened a new front in the activism around the Gaza crisis – one targeting the commercial interests of celebrities unwilling to leverage their global megaphones on the issue.

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