Over the last 2 weeks, Palestine has been constantly bombed by Israel, stemming from the forced expulsion of Palestinian residents from their neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, that spread to protests at Al Aqsa, and other parts of Gaza, and the West Bank. Over 200 Palestinians have died, hundreds are injured and crucial infrastructure has been damaged or totally destroyed.
Across social media platforms such as Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok, Palestinians both residing in Palestine and those in the diaspora have been sharing videos of the attacks, and their aftermath. These have been shared by activists and concerned users alike, and retweets, and reposts have been viewed thousands of times. Marches and protests have been organized and attended by thousands around the world, to put pressure on local governments to condemn the attacks against civilians, though only a few acknowledged the effect being had on Palestinians.
With the outright refusal of some influential Western governments like the US, UK, Canada, to acknowledge the ethnic cleansing happening in Palestine, social media has been instrumental in spreading awareness of the situation. Palestinians have been sharing videos on Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat and Twitter of first hand experiences, some even covering live bombings, such as the bombing of an international press tower in Gaza. Others share the pictures and videos of the aftermath of their homes being destroyed, as they search through the rubble for their belongings or loved ones. These tweets, posts and videos centers the Palestinian narrative as told by Palestinians themselves, rather than Western media outlets who have biased reporting of events. However, some Palestinian activists, civilians, and journalists, who are putting the spotlight on these events on social media platforms have had their posts removed for violating community guidelines, making it more challenging to share the events as they happen.
This is where social media influencers and celebrities, who amass hundreds of thousands and millions of followers can platform what’s occurring. When media outlets have been describing what’s been happening as a conflict, or real estate dispute instead of ethnic cleansing, apartheid, and war crimes, social media is the medium through which people can see for themselves what’s happening on the ground, from those who afflict and those who have been inflected by rockets and bombs.
Over the past few days, some celebrities and influencers have posted differing standpoints on what’s been happening. Some, like Bella Hadid, and Mark Ruffalo (well, kind of, but that can be addressed later), have been clear on their stance in support of Palestine, through tweets or pics of them attending marches. Celebrities has also expressed Zionist views, notably Gal Gadot – who’s served in the Israeli Defense Force – who posted on Instagram about the recent escalation, without even mentioning or acknowledging Palestine as a country of its own.
Others, like Rihanna – as though inspired by Kendall Jenner’s Pepsi ad – have made statements in an effort to impartiality, which have been bland, flat, and have left a sour taste in followers’ mouths. The attempt at a neutral take, are out of touch with reality and insensitive, as activist Marc Lamont Hill pointed out in a recent video. “Sometimes sincere efforts can be sincerely wrong. This is essentially an All Lives Matter post.” Marc Lamont Hill said in response to Rihanna’s post, a simple text post expressing her concerns about innocent Israeli and Palestinian children’s lives being lost due to violence.
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While, as Marc stated in his response video below, her post may have come from a place of genuine concern, what the post did lack, was nuance. The framing of the post, left out crucial information about the situation and the current attacks on Palestinians. Like when she wrote “violence… displayed between…” when this is an occupier, Israel, attacking Palestinians, there’s a power dynamic at play. She ended her statement with “government and extremists,” further framing this matter as one where perpetrators actions may be justified, when it’s people who are defending themselves and property.
For celebs and influencers who’ve posted enthusiastically about their support for BLM, the silence on Palestine is disheartening. The parallels between police brutality, surveillance, biased trials, sentencing and jail time that both Black Americans and Palestinians experience are clear, and their support for each other has been vocal on both sides.
There are decades worth of historical events that’s led to the present day scenario. But a lack of knowledge is not an excuse for not wanting to repost something in support of Palestinians – go learn from people who can inform you, and share from people who know or are experiencing for themselves. A concern over the repercussions publicly supporting Palestine may have on celebrities careers, or influencers’ brand deals, or overall brand image, are present and real. But, this begs the question, What matters more – profits or principles? Especially when they’ve taken a public stance on BLM, why not Palestine?
Let’s talk about Mark Ruffalo, who seems to be backtracking from his support of Palestine, or at least some of it. In his most recent tweet he wrote that his previous tweets might have been misconstrued as anti-Semitic, stepping back from his language that suggested Israel is committing genocide. Earlier he’d retweeted Bernie Sanders’ speech listing the damaging effects violence against Palestinians has had on children and infrastructure alike.
I have reflected & wanted to apologize for posts during the recent Israel/Hamas fighting that suggested Israel is committing “genocide”. It’s not accurate, it’s inflammatory, disrespectful & is being used to justify antisemitism here & abroad. Now is the time to avoid hyperbole.
— Mark Ruffalo (@MarkRuffalo) May 25, 2021
Bella Hadid, who has Palestinian heritage, has faced backlash from Israeli social media accounts for her support for Palestine, claiming her statements to be anti -Semitic. With threats against her family, some of her posts about Palestine were removed from her social media accounts.
With celebrities and influencers relying on brand deals, they potentially risk their careers with their blatant political opinions, especially when they live in countries where their local government’s stance is the contrary. Going against that can be polarizing for themselves and their careers. But this is also an indicator of numbers and influence. Celebrities and influencers can capture millions of followers attention and cause them to reflect on their personal views on a human rights issue, and with social media, everyone has access to information, and can create content. Social media can connect us like we’ve never been connected before, but, we can’t stay connected to everything all the time, which is where the role of celebrities and influencers come into play. Earning their followers’ trust leads to their ability to persuade, influence, and also frame things in a specific way.
This creates an imbalanced relationship between the influencer and follower. If an influencer posts about something, it must be good, because we’ve handed that power of persuasion over to them. And if they don’t talk about something, it probably isn’t important, or not worth a follower’s time. Celebrities’ and influencers’ support or lack of support doesn’t necessarily legitimize what’s happening in Palestine. Are celebrities and influencers actively sharing posts about what’s happening, and participating in protests, knowing that they can experience backlash and still do it because it’s the right thing to do? That’s great, because the more people who are informed, can lead to more pressure on governments to do something. Have popular celebrities and influencers gone radio silent about Palestine, and picked neutral or fluffy statements? Should we expect a round 2 of the insensitive rendition of Imagine? (I hope not). It doesn’t take away from the urgency and reality of the situation. They’re free to do as they want or don’t want, it doesn’t diminish the importance of raising awareness to bring about change.
Palestine is a human rights issue. War crimes are being committed. Western support for Palestinians is crucial, because those governments can put enough pressure on Israel to stop their attacks. Celebrities and influencers posts and tweets are not activism; but they still bring attention to current events, and focus and refocus the importance and bias of these issues. And it’s about time we put that into context of the broader picture; this is a means of bringing about urgent change for Palestine.
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