Why are social media users blocking celebrities over Israel’s Gaza war?

How the Met Gala triggered a social media #Blockout2024 — a digital guillotine — against celebrities’ silence on Gaza.

The growing protest efforts against Israel’s war on Gaza have now spawned a cyberspace movement that has erupted in the past few days, targeting celebrities who are seen as being insensitive towards, or even supportive of, the death and destruction in the Palestinian enclave.

The campaign that took off after the Met Gala on May 6 has earned the names: Blockout 2024, celebrity block list and digitine. The idea is to  block famous celebrities on social media networks such as Instagram, X and TikTok.

But what’s it all about, why are parallels to the French Revolution coming up, does blocking a celebrity hurt them, and is the campaign seeing any impact?


What is Blockout 2024?

The Blockout 2024 is an online movement where social media users are carrying out a digital boycott of famous celebrities ranging from Hollywood actors to social media influencers for their silence on Israel’s war on Gaza, or in some cases, their purported support for the war.

Various TikTok, Instagram and X users have begun circulating lists of celebrities and their businesses to block.

The point of the move is to reduce the earnings the celebrities make through ads on social media platforms.


Why was this year’s Met Gala so controversial?

The Blockout movement was set off by this year’s Met Gala, which took place in New York on May 6.

Social media users were upset when images of the lavishly dressed celebrities surfaced online at the annual fundraiser.

They pointed out that some of these celebrities had never made online statements or addressed the continuing war on Gaza, where Israel’s relentless bombardment has killed more than 35,000 people, most of them women and children.

The ‘let them eat cake’ moment

On May 7, a video surfaced of TikTok influencer Haley Kalil, lip-syncing the words “let them eat cake”, outside the Met Gala. Kalil has 9.9 million followers on her TikTok account @haleyybaylee.

Those infamous words, often attributed to Marie Antoinette, the queen of France during the French Revolution, have in popular imagination become synonymous with an elite so disconnected with the lives of citizens unable to find even bread that they suggest cake as an alternative.

Kalil’s video stirred anger because of the backdrop of the starvation crisis in Gaza. Insufficient food has been on the rise over the seven months of war.


Only two days before the Met Gala, on May 4, Cindy McCain, the head of the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) said in a news interview that northern Gaza is experiencing “full blown famine”.

Users online have now started calling the Blockout, the “digitine” or the digital guillotine, leaning into the French Revolution reference.

Kalil issued an apology video on May 10 on her TikTok account. She said that she did not have an actual invite to the Met Gala and was involved in the event only as a host with E! News. She justified her use of the audio by saying that it was a trending audio on TikTok.

“I am not informed enough to talk about it in a meaningful or educational way,” she said in the apology video in response to questions about why she is not talking about what is happening in Gaza. She did not mention “Palestine”, “Gaza” or “Israel” in the video.


How does blocking a celebrity affect them?

Besides Kalil, other celebrities on the blocklists include Israeli actor and former soldier Gal Gadot, American media personality and socialite Kim Kardashian, American actors Zendaya and Noah Schnapp; American singer Taylor Swift and British singer Harry Styles.


While there have been online movements in the past to unfollow some of the celebrities that are now being blocked, experts have said blocking is more effective as a protest strategy than unfollowing.

The effect of unfollowing on a celebrity’s overall audience and engagement metrics is minimal, Eddy Borges-Rey, an associate professor in residence at Northwestern University in Qatar told Al Jazeera. Borges-Rey’s research work examines social media and algorithms.

“Social media celebrities heavily rely on high visibility and engagement to attract and maintain advertising deals,” he said, adding that when someone unfollows a celebrity, they simply stop seeing the celebrity’s posts in their feed. The content can still indirectly show up through their search pages or algorithm-driven feeds such as the Instagram Explore page or the “For You” pages on TikTok and X.


Since even non-followers view the celebrity’s content if they have not blocked the celebrity, this does not significantly hurt the celebrity’s reach.

On the other hand, “if someone blocks the celebrity, they completely cut off all interaction with their content,” said Borges-Rey.

This decreases the celebrity’s audience size, leading social media algorithms to deprioritise their content. As more people block a celebrity, their posts become less visible across the platform, even to those users who have not blocked the celebrities.


“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,” he added.

How have people reacted to the Blockout?

While many social media users online have been proponents and participants of the movement, others have described it as an example of performative activism.

Some have also suggested that posts about the Blockout, by crowding social media, are diverting attention from updates and information about what is actually going on in Palestine, as well as fundraisers for Gaza.

Has the Blockout made a difference so far?

While the Blockout started only a few days ago and the number of people who have blocked a particular account does not show, celebrities have started to lose followers.

On Saturday, NPR reported that Taylor Swift lost roughly 300,000 followers on TikTok and about 50,000 followers on Instagram over the past week.

“They [celebrities] live off of our attention,” an X user posted. “If they don’t have any, they cease to exert their influence.”

Source: Al Jazeera