Power to the people: #blockout, boycotts, and the #digitine

Shadi-Sade Sarreshtehdarzadeh, strategy lead at 72andSunny, discusses the social media revolution currently taking place, and what it could mean for brands.

The social media revolution is upon us. But not as we’ve talked about it before. 

It’s been a solid decade since people started using the internet for activism, whichever side of the coin their political views stand on. Let us not forget 4chan, originally a meme playground for teens that catapulted into public pranks; its evolution into Anonymous instigating #OccupyWallStreet…and then turning its head to conspiracy theories, incels, Trump’s unpredicted presidential win, and the qAnon alt right uprising. (TLDR; watch ‘The Anti-Social Network’ on Netflix for a deep dive into the origins of politicising the web).

But in recent weeks, it’s reached new heights with the #Digitine movement, going from a subset of society, hidden in the shadows, to a mass populus uprising in front of our eyes.

Following the Met Gala, the fashion and celebrity moment of the year, outrage was sparked by influencer @HayleyyBaylee posting ‘Let them eat cake’ from the red carpet, all whilst there is a widely known famine taking place in Palestine. Taking inspiration from the French Revolution, what has resulted is a mass ‘digital guillotine’ of celebrities present at the Met Gala who have remained silent on Palestine.

Named #blockout2024, social media users are manipulating the algorithm to punish celebrities for not speaking out. The hack is to block celebrities, rather than unfollow them, because it means their visibility on the platform is reduced, and as such impacts their appeal to advertisers, hitting the celebrities where it hurts the most – their wallets.

The manipulation of social media algorithms and the public wielding their power to impact it has been rising throughout the years. ‘Algospeak’ hacks such as using emoji’s, or code words, to avoid censorship on political posts, are now commonplace. We’ve even seen activist Jameela Jamil publicly manipulate the algorithm after she was shadow banned, by posting videos and pictures of her cleavage to up her visibility, but overlaid with captions outlining her activist messaging, so as to avoid further censorship.

The people have realised their power, and the uprising is happening online, to real world effect. You won’t need to watch closely as the Instagram followers drop by millions on boycotted celebrities. 

This extends to brands. The BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement) lists are being widely distributed, and as a result, some major global brands who would’ve been presumed infallible, are seeing customer numbers drop, and stores close – even those who aren’t being called out are suffering by misassociation.

Take heed of this cautionary tale.

In the words of one Instagram commenter: ‘We gave them their platform, let’s take it away.’

Shadi-Sade Sarreshtehdarzadeh is strategy lead at 72andSunny.

72andSunny are talking at Mumbrella 360 next week on the topic, ‘Winning in youth culture when you’re not a young brand’. They recently published a new report Mapping Modern Masculinity exploring the shifts in culture around masculinity in Australia as part of their New Narrative series exploring the fast and slow cultural trends impacting business. 


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