Social media users promote celebrity 'blockout' to push famous people to speak out on war in Gaza

The campaign has attempted to put a significant dent in celebrities' follower numbers on social media accounts.
Israel Palestinians Online Protest Explainer
Posted at 9:59 PM, May 15, 2024

As this year's Met Gala got underway, the message behind the sartorial theme of one of fashion's biggest nights fell on deaf ears as activists marched in traffic on the streets near the Metropolitan Museum of Art and voiced concerns on social media.

At issue was a lack of attention, in their eyes, on Israel's war against Hamas, and the continued military onslaught on the Palestinian territory that, months in — even by earlier this year — had seen more than 29,000 Palestinians killed since Hamas' Oct. 7 attack on Israel.

International aid organizations feared this month that any new military operation by the IDF in Rafah would cripple humanitarian operations. The United Nations also feared yet another surge in civilian deaths.

By the time of the May 6 Met Gala, thousands of miles away in New York City, activists were working to take attention away from the event and celebrity culture with a growing protest labeled "#Blockout2024," in which social media users were being asked to block any celebrity account that didn't speak out on the war in Gaza.

That same day, Columbia University announced that it had canceled its May 15 commencement ceremony after weeks of anti-war demonstrations on its campus, and other campuses across the country.

In April, the daughter of U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar said she was suspended from Barnard College after "standing in solidarity with Palestinians facing a genocide."

In May UCLA Chancellor Gene Block called violence at the university's Royce Quad on its campus "abhorrent" after classes at the University of California in Los Angeles were canceled "due to the distress" after a group of anti-war demonstrators were attacked.

Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass said she met with members of the LAPD and several other agencies, calling the attack "absolutely detestable violence."

Activists who saw others being arrested on campuses while picketing and demonstrating appeared to turn to online methods to push for more action and awareness.

Some called the celebrity blockout a sign that there was possibly some shifting perspective on the feelings fans and the public have about celebrities. It appeared the blockout was a way to test what power celebrities have on influencing politicians, corporations and voters.

The movement appeared to be significantly driven by TikTok users who believe the influencers should use their platforms to speak out on social issues and on the war in Gaza.

They spoke out in large numbers against one post by popular TikToker @HaleyyBaylee who shared a videowhile at the Met Gala lip-syncing to sound that said "Let them eat cake." Users on the platform later pointed out that she had reportedly deleted the video with her wearing an expensive dress, but not before comments started pouring in noting that the video was tone-deaf amid an ongoing major conflict. The video, with over 19.3 million views, gained comments like "The fact that she didn't realize this would upset us just makes the metaphor even stronger," theMiami Herald pointed out.

The quote, "Let them eat cake," is a historical line widely attributed to French Queen Marie-Antoinette, who is believed to have said it during the French Revolutionafter she was told her starving peasant subjects didn't even have bread to eat. To anti-war activists, it was another example of the disconnect happening at events like the Met Gala, when the celebrities there could be speaking out to stop a deadly conflict.

One TikTok user with the handle @Blockout2024 said “Celebrities can’t earn ad revenue when we block them,” and encouraged users to make block lists to keep momentum for the effort going.

To date, there hasn't been any one major organized list of celebrities being blocked, but rather a more organic grassroots effort to suggest celebrities to block by other social media users.

It's hard, some have said, to gauge how successful this early iteration of the effort has been. Beth Fossen, a marketing professor at Indiana University, told The Associated Press that it could have an impact on celebrity brands more tied to humanitarian causes than for other celebrities who are just known for being famous.