15 May 2024

Blockout 2024: What is it, and does it help the people in Gaza?

5:31 pm on 15 May 2024
Celebrities who have yet to take a stance on the war on Gaza.

Celebrities who face being blocked by social media users in #Blockout2024. Photo: Quin Tauetau / RNZ

A new trend of blocking celebrities and influencers online is being compared to The Hunger Games, but how is it helping the people of Gaza?

The same night bedazzled celebrities strutted down an opulent duck-egg blue carpet at the Met Gala in New York - each event ticket costing US$75,000 (NZ$124,100) - more than 100,000 people were attempting to evacuate Rafah ahead of continued Israeli airstrikes in Gaza.

Best-selling author Suzanne Collins said the inspiration for her dystopian trilogy of books - The Hunger Games - came when she was channel-surfing one evening, seeing footage from the Iraq war "fusing together in a very unsettling way" with reality TV.

A growing number of people active on social media view the Met Gala as synonymous to Panem - a city in the books - with a display of extravagance and wealth occurring simultaneously to war, death and starvation.

This kicked off Blockout 2024, where users want to send celebrities to the "digitine", or digital guillotine.

What is Blockout 2024?

It is an online movement of social media users digitally boycotting celebrities for their silence on Israel's war in Gaza. TikTok, Instagram and X users have been circulating lists of celebrities and businesses to block, aiming to reduce the earnings they make. TikToker @Blockout2024 started sharing lists of celebrities to block on his account.

TikToker @ladyfromtheoutside, who coined the term "digitine", said: "We gave them their platforms. It's time to take it back - take our views away, our likes, our comments, our money - by blocking them on all social media platforms."

Auckland University media professor Neal Curtis said the display of luxury, privilege and splendour of the Met Gala, "while the world seems to be ablaze in various places", was seen as an affront by many young people.

"They're asking celebrities to not be indifferent, to make statements and position themselves in relation to humanitarian issues."

Curtis said the movement cast a lens on the concerns of young people.

"We can't just dismiss this as angry, young people who are just misinformed and are just trying to shout on social media," he said.

How did the Met Gala play a part?

The Blockout movement kicked off after this year's Met Gala on 6 May.

In the week following, social media users have circulated comparison imagery, like a Met attendee wearing a 180-carat diamond necklace worth US$10 million juxtapositioned with images of dust, death and destruction from the conflict in Gaza.

Social media users began to point out the lavishly dressed celebrities who had yet to address the war in Gaza. More than 35,000 people have been killed in the conflict since October 2023, according to Gaza's Health Ministry, which does not distinguish between civilians and combatants.

While United Nations World Food Programme head Cindy McCain said Northern Gaza was experiencing a "full-blown famine", outside the Met Gala, dressed in extravagant florals, TikTok influencer Haley Kalil was filmed lipsyncing the words, "Let them eat cake".

TikTok Influencer Haley Kalil in her outfit for the Met Gala.

TikTok Influencer Haley Kalil was videoed lipsyncing the words, "Let them eat cake," outside of the 2024 Met Gala. Photo: Screenshot / TikTok

The words attributed to Marie Antoinette, queen of France during the French Revolution, express the stark contrast between the rich elite and struggling citizens.

Social media users have called Kalil's video tone-deaf, fuelling the fire for the "digitine".

Kalil has since apologised for the video, noting she was not "informed enough about it in a meaningful and educational way". However, she was criticised for not naming Palestine, Gaza or Israel during her apology.

There are hundreds of celebrities on the Blockout 2024 list, including Taylor Swift, Justin and Hailey Bieber, Zendaya, Nicole Kidman, Harry Styles and Oprah.

What has been the impact so far? Does blocking a celebrity help?

The hashtag #Blockout2024 has already been used more than 29,000 times on TikTok. Influencers rely on visibility and engagement to attract and run advertising deals, yet they will not earn ad revenue when blocked.

The celebrity's audience size will decrease and social media algorithms will deprioritise their content. If more people block the celebrity, their posts will become less visible on the platform, even reduced for the users who have not blocked them. These consumer-led boycotts have occurred before.

Claims of follower losses are beginning to circulate, for example NPR reported Taylor Swift lost about 300,000 followers on TikTok in the last few days. Kim Kardashian has reportedly lost 3 million followers. But any tangible repercussions are yet to be known.

The Blockout is sparking a bigger conversation about online activism. It asks the questions: Is posting about Gaza the bar to joining the movement? Should the opinions of celebrities far removed from the actual geopolitical event concerned hold that much significance?

Some social media users have pointed out the "blacklist celeb lists" shared on platforms are diverting attention from actual updates and factual information about the war in Gaza.

"The question is, should they be spending their time trying to block celebrities, or should they instead be spending time trying to advocate for the causes they want to support?" Prof Curtis said.

Who are the celebrities who have expressed support for Gaza?

Celebrities are speaking out.

Macklemore recently released a single in support of Palestinian people, performing Hind's Hall live for the first time during his New Zealand tour. The Weeknd donated US$2m to the UN's World Food Programme last month, which will make more than 18 million loaves of bread, feeding 157,000 Palestinians for a month. He had already donated US$2.5m to Gaza in December.

Macklemore at Spark Arena waving a Palestinian flag.

Macklemore was captured performing at Spark Arena waving a Palestinian flag. Photo: Screenshot / TikTok

Since Blockout 2024, Lizzo has posted several fundraising projects she had donated to personally.

The creator of the TikTok account @Blockout2024 says the movement's main message still stands.

"Overall, this movement is waking people up to the fact that we have the power to make change, which is really important," they said.

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