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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Celebrities face digital backlash over Gaza silence

For months, pro-Palestinian activists have flooded the comments sections of social media sites, urging stars to join calls for a ceasefire in Gaza's deadliest war.

Celebrities who have remained silent on the crisis in Gaza are feeling the wrath of angry fans wielding the “digital guillotine” to block them on social media and streaming platforms.

Taylor Swift, Drake and many more have become targets of the “Block Out 2024” movement, which began on TikTok in response to the perceived disconnect between the glamorous Met Gala and the grim realities of the Israel-Hamas conflict.

For months, pro-Palestinian activists have flooded the comments sections of social media sites, urging stars to join calls for a ceasefire in Gaza’s deadliest war.

But matters came to a head after last week’s Met Gala, a glitzy fundraiser and the biggest night in fashion featuring A-list stars from screen, stage, sports and the world’s runways.

Dressed in an extravagant gown, influencer Haley Kalil posted on TikTok lip-synching “Let them eat cake” — a phrase notoriously associated with Marie Antoinette that symbolizes the callous disregard of 18th century French aristocrats towards the poor.

Fellow TikToker ladyfromtheoutside, who started the movement, responded: “It’s time for the people to conduct what I want to call a digital guillotine, a digitine, if you will,” referring to the execution apparatus used during the French Revolution.

“Take our views away, our likes, our comments, our money,” she urged.

Her message was taken up as a rallying cry for the pro-Palestinian movement, and early signs suggest the boycott may be having an impact.

Read more: Pro-Palestinian demonstrators protest outside the Met Gala

– Some impact, but for how long? –

Reality star Kim Kardashian — who attended the ball in New York — has lost hundreds of thousands of Instagram followers in recent days, according to analytics site Social Blade.

Global music superstar Taylor Swift, who opted to focus on her Eras Tour rather than appear at the event, has also seen a decline of more than 200,000 followers since last Thursday.

“This is about lives and justice — if she can rally all of us to vote, she has the power to speak up about injustice,” said a TikToker who described herself as a “Palestinian Swiftie” and said it was time to block, unfollow and stop streaming her idol.

It’s uncertain whether the movement is directly responsible for the social media hits seen by some celebrities, or if other trends are at play.

Read more: Kim Kardashian’s uncomfortable dress at Met Gala becomes talk of the town

Moreover, the losses could be short-lived, Natasha Lindstaedt, a University of Essex professor who has studied celebrity activism, told AFP.

“Sometimes people make a decision based on an emotional response to an issue and decide that if a celebrity isn’t on the same side… they don’t want to follow them anymore, but that takes a second,” she says.

This phenomenon is known in academic circles as “slacktivism” — substituting low-stakes online actions like posting memes or liking posts, or choosing to unfollow a favorite star — for meaningful political engagement.

Instead of responding, celebrities might find it wiser to wait out the backlash, especially given the sensitive nature of the Gaza conflict, which has proven perilous for many stars.

Oscar-winning actress Susan Sarandon was dropped by her talent agency UTA after speaking at a pro-Palestine rally in November.

More recently, Jerry Seinfeld, long the model of an apolitical celebrity, has faced criticism for affiliating himself more closely with Israel.

That backlash against the Jewish comedian intensified after a report said his wife Jessica donated to a group of pro-Israel counter-protesters at UCLA, where violence broke out against pro-Palestinian demonstrators.

Read more: Social media up in arms: Rafah invasion and Met Gala stir outrage

She later wrote on Instagram that she supported a peaceful rally days earlier and did not support or contribute to any violent actions.