All Eyes on Rafah ai image(l), Black square(r)

‘Communicates nothing’: Is the massively viral ‘All Eyes on Rafah’ image the new BLM black square?

The AI-generated image has been shared more than 40 million times on Instagram.

 

Tricia Crimmins

Tech

Over Memorial Day weekend, Israel struck shelters in Rafah, a Palestinian city it publicized as a “safe zone,” burning Palestinian civilians alive. At least 45 were killed in the bombing.

In response—and as more strikes and an invasion loom—millions of people online began posting an AI-generated image with the words “All Eyes on Rafah” to condemn the attack.

The image has gone massively viral, with over 40 million shares in the last few days.

But the virality of it is drawing backlash, the sharing of the image dubbed performative online activism, posted by people who have either been ignorant or uninterested in the conflict until now.

The massive popularity and subsequent pushback is akin to “Blackout Tuesday,” or the 2020 online event that encouraged social media users to post a black square to signify support for Black Lives Matter.

Similar to the Blackout Tuesday black square, the “All Eyes of Rafah” image has been shared by celebrities and popular Instagram accounts, like that of Dua Lipa, Priyanka Chopra, Jenna Ortega, Nicola Coughlan, and Aaron Paul.

All Eyes on Rafah ai image(l), Black square(r)

But also like the black square, some accuse the “All Eyes on Rafah” image of being the bare minimum of virtual protest—and clogging up social media feeds while suppressing other information, including actual images—from the attack on Palestine.

In 2020, informational content about police brutality and protests posted under specific Black Lives Matter hashtags were drowned out by black square posts.

Online, the similarities sparked criticism.

“That fucking AI all eyes on Rafah story template is so stupid like BLM black square levels of Instagram performatism, it communicates nothing!” an X user posted. “If you’re gonna limit your activism to social media at least post something with information or images of what’s actually happening there.”

“I BEG everyone reposting ‘All Eyes on Rafah’ to ask themselves ‘then what?’ because it’s not enough. This isn’t a trendy phrase to just say & post,” another person said. “What are YOU going to do beyond that? Don’t make Rafah just another liberal black square. It’s not just Rafah. Free ALL of Palestine.”

Others said that posting the “All Eyes on Rafah” seems to do more for the person posting it than for Palestinians in Rafah—which is why some consider it performative activism, or activism that is “done out of a desire to make oneself look better, rather than a desire to help the cause being promoted.”

“It’s low effort,” an X user tweeted. “[It] soothes the poster.”

Actual images out of Rafah, with similar phrasing, are starting to be shared on Instagram.

That said, some were impressed by the magnitude of the “All Eyes on Rafah” image and its—however minimal—ability to raise awareness.

“I know the ‘All Eyes of Rafah’ is peak performative activism, equal to the [BLM] black square, but 45 million???? 45 million of you thought of Palestine,” an X user tweeted. “I am emotional this wasn’t the case even a year ago !!!!”


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