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The Fall of Fandoms – The 2024 Block Out 

by in Culture & Lifestyle on 21st May, 2024

When Hayley Kalil, a model and influencer boasting 9.9 million followers on TikTok, attended the 2024 Met Gala wearing a floral headdress and gown to match, seemingly inspired by the last queen of France Marie Antoinette, she had no idea the global online movement she would trigger. As she stepped onto the red carpet, Kalil shared her now viral video cosplaying the infamous queen and mouthed the words, “Let them eat cake”, which are attributed to Antoinette in the 18th century. This iconic phrase symbolises the disconnect from the realities faced by the common people and is said to be her response when she was informed that her starving peasant subjects had no bread. This sheds light on the profound detachment that existed between the ruling elite and the struggles of the common folk and which holds true to this very day. For Marie Antoinette, the concept of not having bread – a staple food for many – was so far removed from her own experiences that she couldn’t comprehend the severity of the situation. 

Similarly, Kalil’s video brought into focus how utterly disconnected today’s elites are with the genocide and famine unfolding in Gaza. It unwittingly sparked a viral outcry reminiscent of the phrase’s historical context. In an ironic twist, these very words, historically associated with the callousness of royal elites, are what ignited the French revolution, driven by discontent and economic hardship. 

For those risking their safety and livelihoods by protesting and calling for an end to the genocide in Gaza and 75 year occupation of Palestine by Israel, compounded by a severe man-made famine affecting the war-weary populace, Hayley’s video seemed to be the tipping point. Similar to Marie Antoinette’s fate at the guillotine, social media users coined the term “Digitine” or a digital guillotine. Targeting celebrities who are seen as being insensitive towards, or even supportive of, the genocide in Palestine, the campaign is also known by names such as Blockout 2024 and Celebrity Block List. The idea is to block famous celebrities on social media networks such as Instagram, X and TikTok.

After months of being gaslighted by their governments and people in power, social media users watched in disbelief as celebrities turned up in lavish gowns at the extravagant Met Gala on 6th May 2024. For months people had witnessed innocent men, women and children in Gaza being slaughtered on their screens, while many celebrities and influencers, including Muslim and Arab influencers went on posting their regular content, which many might argue is them just doing their jobs. However, the utter disconnect from the elite brought this dystopian reality into sharp focus when soon after the Met Gala pictures Hayley’s video emerged, adding insult to injury. Social media users were quick to point out the Hunger Gamesque reality and parallels between the French elite and masses during the French Revolution

Soon after, various TikTok, Instagram and X users began circulating lists of celebrities and their businesses for people to block, urging users to carry out a digital boycott of famous celebrities, ranging from Hollywood actors, to social media influencers for their silence on Israel’s genocide on Gaza, or in some cases, their purported support. 

But will blocking celebrities help, and can it really make an impact?

The point of Blockout 2024 is to reduce the earnings celebrities make through ads on social media platforms. Palestine became a litmus test for many of the people who are admired and followed online. Since they fell short of expectations, like standing up for things that mattered to their followers or using their platforms for good, social media has seen a mass exodus in the form of unfollowing. However, experts like Eddy Borges-Rey whose research work examines social media and algorithms, have said that blocking is a more effective protest strategy than unfollowing. 

When you unfollow a celebrity, you stop seeing their posts on your feed, but their content can still indirectly show up through search pages, Instagram’s Explore page or Tiktok’s “For You” page and this doesn’t significantly impact a content creator’s reach. However, if you block a celebrity, you cut off all interaction with that content leading to a decreased audience size, which in turn causes social media algorithms to deprioritise their content and not show it to non-followers who have not blocked them. As the block movement gains momentum, this can cause celebrity posts to become less visible on platforms due to the way the algorithm works.

Much like the BDS movement in the physical world, social media users who have been campaigning for Gaza and Palestine on their platforms were quick to boycott celebrities online. However, many others have been critical of the movement, calling it performative activism as we have yet to see the efficacy of such blocklists. Some are also labelling the time taken to block celebrities as a distraction and time taken away from actively helping the people of Palestine. On the other hand, haven’t these celebrities and influencers been doing just that over the years?

Haven’t they been building a consumer-driven materialistic culture that distracts us from what actually matters and keeps us slaves to the capitalist systems set in place by the empire? Haven’t they served as a distraction to prevent people from paying attention to the freedom and liberties being taken away in the most underhanded manner by those in power? 

It can also be said that we have always known the hypocrisy of the Hollywood elite except for a handful who are few and frankly, too far in between. They have shown us their cards in various ways, which perhaps we have never had a chance to or chose not to acknowledge. We also know that as much as they love romanticising the resistance in their books and films, when push comes to shove, they will never challenge the status quo when the status quo benefits them greatly and upholds white supremacy; a system which benefits the vast majority of celebrities. So we never really care for their opinions or actions in times of true significance.

But What of the Muslim Influencers?

It has taken eight long months of unimaginable horror unfolding on our screens for these idols to come crashing down. For us Muslims, idol worship in any form is forbidden and celebrity and influencer culture has been veering dangerously close to it for many years. But what about all the Muslims and Arab celebrities and influencers who have chosen to remain silent or given a feeble “both-sided peace for all” dribble? Are they not aware of the gravity of the situation and the impact of their voices? Influencers like Nas daily, DJ Khaled and the Assad sisters are among those who have repeatedly been called out on social media for their silence on the issue of Gaza, with their Palestinian heritage exacerbating the significance of their silence. Moreover, it’s notable that while some remain silent, activists like Malala have openly collaborated with Hillary Clinton, the woman who actively voted and cheered the bombing of Malala’s own people in Northern Pakistan.

In stark contrast, students from all backgrounds on college campuses are risking not only their futures, but their actual physical safety for the sake of Palestine freedom and liberation. Doesn’t that make the silence of these Muslim influencers even more complicit in this genocide?

The same can also be said of people of colour used by governments like the US to be the face of their genocidal policies and do their bidding in places like the UN Security Council and White House press conferences. Who can forget Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, US representative at the United Nations, raising her hand like a good little person of colour to vote against a ceasefire that is killing brown and black people indiscriminately. The very presence of people of colour in those powerful hallways harms us more than we can imagine as it creates a dichotomy of the good and bad people of colour, creating the concept of the “good immigrant” and helping to maintain imperialism and white supremacy. 

In the words of Spiderman, “With great power comes great responsibility.” And with great silence, comes even greater disappointment. Which is why people who have felt helpless for months have been eager to go on online blocking sprees, demanding accountability and declaring that they don’t care for such apathy and disconnect from celebrities and influencers  who have only been given the power because of them. The reason they are held to a far higher standard than any other white celebrities is because Muslims feel a proximity to them. The betrayal is far more painful because these influencers have used this very shared identity to gain their massive following. 

However, as we address matters within our Muslim community, it is important that we maintain a respectful tone and avoid any form of witch hunt. It is important to remember to do due diligence for every block out list shared and verify information before sharing it further. Slandering fellow Muslim brothers and sisters is a grave sin, so let’s be mindful of our words and actions. Allah (SWT) says in the Qur’an,

Indeed, those who came up with that ‘outrageous’ slander are a group of you. Do not think this is bad for you. Rather, it is good for you. They will be punished, each according to their share of the sin. As for their mastermind, he will suffer a tremendous punishment. (Surah An-Nur 24:11)

Muslim influencers who have stayed silent while Israel wages war crime after war crime on Gaza and Palestine can also be called equivalent to UAE / Saudi Arabia in their inaction on issues pertaining to the Muslim world, while actively maintaining relationships with those that set out to actively harm us.

Muslims living in the west know that the countries they live in are openly complicit in the genocide of their people. But when Muslim countries do it, it hurts far more because aren’t they supposed to utilise their money and power for the good of the Ummah that is one body? Are the normalisation agreements with Israel that attractive or is the blood of our people that cheap?

Critics can also argue about what real weight do these celebrities’ opinions on geopolitical events hold? After all, their status doesn’t automatically equate to expertise on global issues. They have never claimed to be activists either. Isn’t this situation similar to regular people who are afraid to speak up for fear of losing their livelihoods? 

Perhaps this is a good moment to remind ourselves that our entire lives are guided by the social justice principles of Islam. On the authority of Abu Sa`eed al-Khudree (may Allah be pleased with him) who said:

I heard the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) say, “Whosoever of you sees an evil, let him change it with his hand; and if he is not able to do so, then [let him change it] with his tongue; and if he is not able to do so, then with his heart — and that is the weakest of faith.” (Muslim)

At the end of the day, Allah (SWT) does not care whether we manage to achieve world peace or not because He (SWT) alone is Al-Muqsit (The Just) and true justice ultimately lies only with Him. But He (SWT) will question us on what we did with the resources and capabilities He blessed us with. The day of accountability will arrive for all of us, whether we work towards it or not. Muslim celebrities can claim they do not yield influence over the businesses they work with all they want, but they cannot deny the platforms they have and the power they yield in amplifying voices that matter. 

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

The People United, Will Never Be Defeated!

The BlockOut 2024 movement ultimately represents a people realising that there is power in numbers, particularly the power they hold in giving platforms to influencers and celebrities, and now is the time to take it back. It is not only a demand for accountability but also a broader examination of the role of celebrity influence in contemporary activism and discourse. 

It is true that the efficacy of blocklists is yet to be determined, but as we saw in the aftermath of social outrage, Hayley Kalil has been asking followers to educate her on organisations that can help with ‘what’s going on in the world’ – her words, not ours. One would think someone with such a massive following would know how to click a few buttons and read up on current events. However, nothing surprises us anymore when it comes to the actions of these influencers. 

Celebrities who have rushed to address the issue publicly can also be called performative and superficial, motivated only by the desire to remain relevant and retain followers. But for us as Muslims, as long as the movement ignites conversations and raises awareness, thereby provoking introspection within influential circles, it can only be a good thing for the Palestinian cause, and with Allah (SWT)’s will, it can hopefully drive tangible progress towards justice.

May we see a free Palestine soon. Ameen

Amaliah Team

Amaliah Team

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