Searching for humanity among algorithms | Aysha Taryam - GulfToday

Searching for humanity among algorithms

Aysha Taryam


Editor-in-Chief, Gulf Today News and Media.

Image of Kim Kardashian blocked on Instagram.

Political unrest, grave human injustice and the non-responsive attitude of governments to the demands of the people have always produced innovative ways of punishment. Masses take to the streets to make their demands heard and when, as history has shown, this is met with neglect, or worse yet violence, the people begin to retaliate by finding ways to disrupt the economy. Recalling capitalism’s well taught lesson that only the dollar matters and all else is collateral damage people have started boycotting certain institutions and companies that are in one way or another complicit in the hindering of their demands. Governments have for decades told their people that these boycotts do not work, that they do not produce the kind of damage intended and that they mainly harm the people themselves by leading to layoffs and closures. The stock exchanges around the world and the massive logistic response from companies to these boycotts say otherwise.

As the war in Gaza rages on raising the civilian death toll to figures yet unseen in modern history warfare, the boycotts have been and still are in full swing. Companies notorious for their support of Israel have been hit the hardest with corporations like Starbucks and McDonalds seeing decline in sales, shares plummeting to all-time lows, and a tarnished brand image that they might never recover from. This has led both companies to form new brand identities designed and situated far from their mother companies in efforts to compensate for the losses occurred by their once respected brands. Universities around the world are facing one of the difficult dilemmas of having to deal with student protests demanding their divestments from companies complicit in aiding Israel with its genocidal efforts on Gaza. In the United States universities collect billions in endowments from companies and organizations that have long-term ties with Israel and are almost impossible to sever. Only one university has agreed to divest from Israel, Evergreen State College, a clear indication of how entrenched the US education system is in its politics.

The war on Gaza has passed the 200-day mark and after numerous attacks that have been deemed war crimes and the starvation of innocent people by barring the entry of international aid the protests have become louder, more furious, once more evolving into ‘blockouts’.

To ask for genuine care towards an issue from someone who does not grasp the gravity of genocide is futile. The pro-Palestine post might or might not be uploaded but at the end of the day social media ‘influencers’ cannot truly give what they do not have.

‘Celebrity Blockout’ is the term social media users have coined to call out celebrities for their inaction towards the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. The mission is to once again threaten profits, this time of celebrities, through the loss of their followers on social media sites like X, Instagram and TikTok. Blocking a celebrity is different from unfollowing them as the blocking of an account hinders its algorithm progress and lowers its reach. This ‘blockout’ was a response to Vogue’s Met Gala that saw bejewelled celebrities walking the red carpet in the most extravagant gowns flaunting what many saw as a parallel universe to the one the rest of us inhabit. People were quick to compare the scenes at the Met to the movie The Hunger Games and branded the event with Marie Antoinette’s alleged infamous words ‘Let them eat cake’. As US universities are searing and genocide is being committed all eyes were meant to be focused on The Met Gala fiasco, needless to say it backfired and from it the #blockout2024 was born. Celebrities from around the world saw their follower numbers plummet just as one saw boycotted companies’ stocks do, losing hundreds of thousands of followers an hour, a major blow to a celebrity’s image and finances.

The only means of expression an artist once possessed was through their art, the rest was left for news organizations and political pundits. Talent was what artists used to be criticized for but when the famed transformed into their own news outlets, radio stations and advertising agencies they not only reaped the financial benefits of cutting the middleman, but they also shouldered the responsibility that those companies used to carry. It was once a rarity to demand such action from a celebrity yet today we see them being reprimanded for not having a political voice. In the past such criticism was reserved for political figures and specialists, today it is demanded from anyone with a large following.

Indeed, it is a responsibility that any human must acknowledge when gifted with such a large platform, to be the voice of the voiceless and yet one must ask: do celebrities and ‘influencers’ possess the political wherewithal to put their livelihood on the line for it? One could only do that if they solidly stood for their ethical beliefs and even then, most people fail to take a stand. This argument is in no way absolving celebrities from their duty towards humanity it merely poses the question of whether political commentary and courage should be demanded from ‘fashionistas’ and TikTok dancers.

It will forever be ironic that social media celebrities who are followed by masses of the population have labelled themselves ‘influencers’ when all they are able to do is transform their followers into addicts raising consumerism to unimaginable heights. They are ‘influencers,’ yes, but what kind of influence are they peddling and how much of it is legitimately honest? The ends might justify the means in this scenario but to ask for genuine care towards an issue from someone who does not grasp the gravity of genocide is futile. The pro-Palestine post might or might not be uploaded but at the end of the day social media ‘influencers’ cannot truly give what they do not have. The people must remember this as they search for humanity in the dark forest of algorithms.

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