Why TikTok users block celebrities

While protests over the war in Gaza were taking place just blocks away, last week's Met Gala was largely devoid of political statements on the red carpet. That the organizers of fashion's most powerful annual show (one for which this year tickets cost $75,000) managed to achieve this goal proved surprising to many observers. Less than two weeks later, however, a rapidly growing online protest movement is taking shape. At least it is on TikTok, the social media platform sponsoring the Met event.

Blockout 2024, also known as Operation Blockout or Celebrity Block Party, targets high-profile figures who participants believe are not using their profiles and platforms to speak out about the Israel-Hamas war and broader humanitarian crises. Here's what's happened so far, what supporters hope to accomplish, and why it all started.

The criticism began on May 6, when Haley Kalil (@haleyybaylee on social media), an influencer who hosted E! News before the event, she posted a video on TikTok in which she wears a luxurious 18th-century-style floral dress and headpiece with audio from Sofia Coppola's 2006 film “Marie Antoinette,” in which Kirsten Dunst proclaims, “Let them eat the cake!”

The clip (for which Ms. Kalil later apologized and which was deleted) was widely viewed. Given current global conflicts and humanitarian crises, critics have described it as “tone deaf.” Then posts emerged comparing the ostentatious costumes worn by celebrities on the Met red carpet to scenes from “The Hunger Games,” in which wealthy citizens in opulent attire wine and dine while watching poor neighborhoods suffer for sport.

Images of Met Gala co-chair Zendaya, combined with photographs of Palestinian children, incited the masses online. A rallying cry came early from @ladyfromtheoutside, a TikTok creator who found inspiration in Ms. Kalil's Marie Antoinette parrot.

“It's time for people to direct what I want to call a digital guillotine — a 'digitina,' if you will,” he said in a May 8 video post with two million views. “It's time to block all the celebrities, influencers and wealthy people who aren't using their resources to help those in desperate need. We gave them their platforms. It's time to take it back, to take away our opinions, our likes, our comments, our money.”

“Blocklists” of celebrities deemed worthy of blocking have been published and widely shared online.

The movement is made up of pro-Palestinian supporters who have evaluated the actions and words of A-listers to decide whether they have responded appropriately to the conflict. If they haven't said anything or haven't said enough, the movement calls on those who support Gaza to block that celebrity on social media. What constitutes sufficient action by a famous person – whether calls for a ceasefire, donations to help charities, or statements – seems unclear and can vary from celebrity to celebrity.

“Blocking” advocates argue that blocking is important because brands look at data about influencers and celebrities' social media followers and engagement before choosing whether to partner with them to promote a product. Blocking someone on social media means you will no longer see any posts from the person's accounts and gives those who block more control over who has access to their updates and personal information. It can have a bigger impact than unfollowing a celebrity's account because many product offerings thrive on targeted ads and views that can accumulate even if a user simply sees a post, without liking or sharing it.

If enough people blocked a content creator, it could reduce the creator's ability to earn money. Moreover, supporters of this thought say: why follow someone whose values ​​​​are not in line with yours?

Participants with huge followings, such as Zendaya, Kim Kardashian and Kylie Jenner, topped the leaderboard. But so did celebrities who didn't attend the gala this year, including Justin Bieber, Taylor Swift and Selena Gomez.

Vogue, which according to Puck News published 570 Met Gala stories on its platforms and recorded more than a billion video views of the evening's content, was also targeted due to its ties to the event.

“The Met Gala is by far Vogue's biggest cash cow,” former Vogue employee Elaina Bell said in a TikTok post with 850,000 views. She explained that the event sold sponsorships “based on data from past events,” adding: “How the Met Gala is viewed is very important to the bottom line of Vogue in particular, but also for Condé Nast.”

It definitely raised some eyebrows. The dress code was “The Garden of Time”, inspired by JG Ballard's short story of the same name. It is an allegorical tale about an aristocratic couple isolated in their estate of faded beauty, harassed by a huge mob preparing to invade and destroy the space. Rather on the nose.

YES. Some posts claim that the block is a negative example of “cancel culture.” Others suggest that, like other social media-driven movements, it is digital attitudes that generate little significant change.

Some argue that celebrities have no duty (or awareness) to speak out about complicated geopolitical issues, and question why it matters what famous people think about such matters anyway. Others believe the movement has confusing parameters, as some prominent figures, such as Jennifer Lopez and Billie Eilish, have already shown support for a ceasefire in Gaza, but are being punished for not speaking out now.

Several stars on widely circulated block lists, including Lizzo and influencer Chris Olsen, posted their first public videos asking followers to donate to support humanitarian organizations serving Palestinians. Blockout supporters have also worked to “support” celebrities who have recently spoken out about the conflict, such as Macklemore, Dua Lipa and The Weeknd.

According to data from the analysis company Social Blade, since the beginning of the “digitine” many names on the blocked lists have lost tens or hundreds of thousands of followers per day. But dark claims that stars like Kim Kardashian have lost millions of followers are unsubstantiated.

Will more A-listers start talking on the red carpet as a result of the lists? It's too early to tell. But for regular TikTok users, the aura of the Met Gala brand has been profoundly altered. And while social media-led boycotts are by no means unprecedented, this latest movement is a clear example of the growing power of creators to redistribute or even weaponize the platforms that are cornerstones of a modern capitalist, celebrity-centric system.

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