Social media users are blocking celebrities and influencers to support Palestine

Every Met Gala has some sort of controversy, whether it’s about the dress code and theme, the guest list, or a now-infamous brawl in an elevator at an afterparty. Because this is 2024, it’s only fitting that the outrage began this year because of a TikTok audio track.

In a now-deleted video, an influencer named Haley Kalil shows off her elaborate floral dress and headpiece as she prepares to host a pre-Met Gala red carpet event. Her misstep was using an audio snippet in the background taken from the 2006 film Marie Antoinette, in which the titular character smirks and delivers one of the most famous (and spurious) one-liners of history: “Let them eat cake.” The sound has been circulating on TikTok for months, mostly used in makeup tutorials, fashion videos, and things of that nature.

The backlash was swift and brutal. Audiences compared the event to The Hunger Games, a dystopia where the wealthy sit back as everyone else fights to the death. TikTok users flooded Kalil’s comments saying she was clueless, callous, or purposefully trying to manufacture outrage. Kalil insisted it was an honest mistake, but the optics were bad: as thousands die, starve, and are displaced in Gaza, reveling in opulence will inevitably rub some the wrong way.

For seven months, social media audiences have watched violence rain down on Palestinians in Gaza following Hamas’ October 7th attack in Israel. Instagram feeds have been inundated with infographics, charts, and gruesome images of death and destruction. TikTok — once an app primarily known for goofy dances — has become a battleground for shaping the public narrative around the long-standing Israel-Palestine conflict. For many — especially younger people — their entire exposure to the conflict has been on social media, as opposed to learning of it on a college campus, through family, or via traditional media. It only makes sense, then, that these same platforms have become an outlet for their responses, whether in the form of frustration, activism, or some combination thereof.

At the same time that Kalil’s video was being debated and discussed, a seemingly unplanned grassroots movement dubbed “Blockout 2024” was picking up steam. Last week, a TikTok user shared a video about blocking celebrities on social media platforms in order to stymie their reach and, by extension, their earnings from ads or sponsored content. The video was in response to clips from the Met Gala interspersed with news footage of Gaza, and the intended message was clear: celebrities don’t care about what happens to everyone else. The least normal people could do is try to cut the powerful off however they can.

Since then, a litany of “block lists” have circulated, created by different people and for different reasons. The targets vary, but Kim Kardashian, Tom Brady, Beyoncé, Taylor Swift, and Selena Gomez are frequently listed, along with many others. (Kalil, unsurprisingly, has also been mentioned.) It’s a diffuse movement with no established leadership or stated goals, but it’s clearly resonated: tens of thousands of posts have been made on TikTok and Instagram using related hashtags, and comment sections are filled with “#blockout” and pro-Palestine messages.

The Blockout is coinciding with more direct forms of mutual aid, with pressure directed at celebrities and influencers to promote these efforts. Sending funds and other resources to Gaza has been difficult over the past several months due to the legal system, the collapse of infrastructure, and Israel’s physical blocking of aid going into Gaza. Some content creators have publicly called on celebrities to support organizations like Operation Olive Branch, a grassroots effort to directly fundraise for Palestinian families. Artists and creators like Lizzo and Hank Green have posted in support of the organizations, spurred in part by comedian Erin Hattamer’s call for fundraising.

Social media-based activism can be fleeting: followers lose interest; momentum dies down; and the reach of movements is limited by algorithms. To be fair, the Blockout is still in its early days, and it’s unclear if it will have a measurable impact. But for a conflict that’s unfolding via shortform videos, live selfie-style updates, and Instagram posts, this will likely not be the last we hear of it.

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