Celebrity and Influencer Boycott Sparks Debate (2024)

Earlier this month, online campaigns arose calling for social media users to block celebrities who have not spoken out about the war in Gaza on their platforms. These calls intensified after several celebrities and influencers attended the Met Gala on May 6—the same day Israel launched an attack on Rafah, the city where many Palestinians fled after the decimation of northern Gaza. On TikTok and Instagram, users called out celebrities and influencers for attending the high-profile event as the war continues—and called on their followers to block stars who they perceive as staying silent on the war.

Called the “Blockout” or “digital guillotine,” the online campaigns took off quickly after an influencer, Haley Kalil, drew backlash after posting a video on May 6 showing off her Met Gala look and lip-syncing to a sound from the 2008 film Marie Antoinette, in which the titular character, played by Kirsten Dunst says, “Let them eat cake." The real-life Antoinette is said to have responded with that phrase after learning peasants in 18th century France were going hungry and had no more bread, though many historians have questioned whether she really said it.

Kalil’s video was criticized immediately, and compared to The Hunger Games. She later apologized and deleted the TikTok, clarifying that she didn’t attend the event and was a pre-Met Gala host for E! News. Kalil also drew ire after saying she doesn’t speak on Gaza because she is “not informed enough to talk about it in a meaningful and educational way.”

In response, the TikTok account @ladyfromtheoutside began a “digital guillotine” or “digitine” movement. “It’s time to block all the celebrities, influencers, and wealthy socialites who are not using their resources to help those in dire need,” she says in her video. “We gave them their platforms. It’s time to take it back, take our views away, our likes, our comments, our money.”

Another account, @Blockout2024, popped up in May and encouraged followers to start blocking celebrities with the aim of disrupting their revenue streams by not engaging with their content. Separate accounts with similar names have also launched on TikTok.

Brooke Erin Duffy, a communications professor at Cornell University, says that a movement like Blockout 2024 shows how large swaths of creators can work in tandem to affect a public figure’s visibility. “While consumer-led boycotts are by no means unprecedented, this latest iteration showcases the power of creators to redistribute—or even weaponize—​platforms' metric systems,” she says.

Read More: As a Potential TikTok Ban Looms, Creators Worry About More Than Just Their Bottom Lines

But just as quickly as it drew praise, the calls to block influencers and celebrities drew criticism, sparking a larger conversation about nuance in online activism. Critics say that just asking people to block celebrities and other highly-followed figures is not a coherent strategy and that it’s becoming a bullying tactic, pulling away focus from the crisis in Gaza.

Creators and celebrities aren't the only subject of discussions of boycotting creative work. Last week, a user on X circulated a color-coded Google Spreadsheet of authors, listing each one’s stance on the war, and who to support and not support. The list inspired similarly divisive reactions, with some accusing the creator of the list of antisemitism and likening it to McCarthyism. Others have acknowledged the well-meaning intention behind the effort, but fear it might have the opposite effect.

why bother putting your effort into actually helping Palestinians when you could just make a spreadsheet of authors who *may* be Zionists that won’t actually help anyone at all

— Rachel ❤️‍🔥 (@icequeensansa) May 10, 2024

“Amid such a profoundly divisive war, it’s no small wonder that celebrities are experiencing backlash for what they have said—or for their conspicuous silence,” Duffy says. “Creators are acutely aware of the impact of visibility—and conversely invisibility—on a person's status and income. Efforts to render a public figure less visible are akin to reputational warfare.”

Blocking campaigns take off on TikTok

@Blockout2024 uploads new videos each day of three celebrities they are blocking and encourages their followers to do the same. They also encourage their followers to share their own personalized blocklists using the hashtag #Blockout2024. Many of these lists include major celebrities like Taylor Swift, Beyoncé, Kim Kardashian, Zendaya, and more.

Figures with millions of followers “have the opportunity to create important change in our world,” says the person behind the @Blockout2024 account via Instagram DMs, who asked to remain anonymous. They started the Blockout 2024 movement after seeing videos of the Met Gala being compared to The Hunger Games.

@blockout2024

#stitch with @SarahF You can also block artists on Spotify as well as news outlets

♬ original sound - blockout2024

“I stitched that video and explained how I block celebrities that aren’t using their platforms for good, so that I’m not contributing to their ad revenue,” they say. “It ended up going viral which showed me that this could really work on a larger scale. So I decided to try and push the movement even further.”

@blockout2024

#stitch with @SarahF You can also block artists on Spotify as well as news outlets

♬ original sound - blockout2024

Critics of the Blockout movement have instead amplified work by content creators that draw attention to the war, like Erin Hattamer, a comedian who pivoted her content to focus on helping people in Gaza, and the organizers of Operation Olive Branch.

In a video posted on May 9, Hattamer said she was getting overwhelmed with messages from families asking to support their GoFundMes to help get people out of Gaza and felt she couldn’t do an effective job on her own, so she started the “Pass The Hat” project, where creators with any size follower count can fill out a form and be assigned to amplify a family’s fundraise. Operation Olive Branch is a similar initiative where creators can adopt a family to help fundraise money to help them get out of Gaza.

Why Blockout2024 is drawing criticism

The hashtag #Blockout2024 has been used over 29,000 times on TikTok. As the hashtag becomes more popular, criticism over the movement has grown too. Kate Lindsay, author of the internet culture Substack newsletter Embedded argued in a May 13 post that it calls for a “perfect celebrity activist” that doesn’t actually exist.

“This movement not only fails to effectively target the people it should, but it also discourages and alienates public figures who are doing their small part,” she wrote.

@blondeblueeyedbaddie247

if u wanna argue w me i cant express how little i care abt what you have to say

♬ original sound - Aryel

One TikToker, @Donidarkowitz, said the blocking campaigns are “losing the plot.”

“There are too many people taking glee in finding celebrities to block for innocuous a-s reasons,” she said. You’ll never hear me say that celebrities shouldn’t do more because they have more at their disposal, but this is not that. This moved so far from the original point in record f-cking time.”

@donidarkowitz

@Drew Afualo does not need my help. But after the DOZENS of videos I saw yesterday taking the focus away from what we should be focusing on and seeing her comment section, it needed to be said. REEVALUATE AND FOCUS ON WHAT IS IMPORTANT. Follow @Erin Hattamer and @Operation Olive Branch and find something PRODUCTIVE to do! #foryou #foryoupage #digitine #celebrity #response

♬ original sound - Taj

Some block lists have included celebrities who have made public statements or gestures on the war in Gaza: Jenna Ortega, who shared support in a statement on X in March; Billie Eilish and her brother Finneas, who wore a ceasefire pin to the Academy Awards; and Ariana Grande, who recently signed an open letter urging for a ceasefire.

a 🧵 of celebrities that have shown support towards Palestine 🍉 🇵🇸

(just to spread awareness for those who chose to speak out) pic.twitter.com/s2dDTKDsMx

— AJAX ! 🍉 (@irlreynolds) May 12, 2024

Lizzo, another celebrity who frequently appears on these lists, recently uploaded a video sharing two GoFundMe campaigns for aid to a family in Palestine, a fundraiser for Sudan, and a resource to an organization helping the people of Congo. The comments section, however, called her action “performative."

“Still blocking, 100 days too late to pretend,” one commenter wrote. “Girl you have more than enough money to just give this family what they need," another comment read. "Coulda and shoulda been doing this months ago. We see through your performance."

Read More: TikTok Vows to Fight Its Ban. Here’s How the Battle May Play Out

The creator @BasicallyBetsy2.0 argued in a video that while the cause has good intentions, the conceit needs some work.

“Just because someone doesn’t speak up for a specific cause doesn’t mean they need to be thrown out completely because they could be speaking up for another cause,” Betsy said. “And just because someone isn’t speaking out publicly on their platform doesn’t mean they aren’t actively at protests.”

@basicallybetsy2.0

Alos the fact people are platforming that yt man who hasnt even stated his beliefs clearly is a big issue!!! i have other opinions related to this but lets start here #blockout2024

♬ original sound - Betsy💙

The creator of the @Blockout 2024 account says he agrees with the criticisms of the movement but thinks its message stands. “Overall, this movement is waking people up to the fact that we have the power to make change, which is really important,” they say. “I think that’s one of the most positive outcomes so far.”

Celebrity and Influencer Boycott Sparks Debate (2024)

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