AI-generated ‘All Eyes on Rafah’ online movement provokes debate

On May 26, Israel launched an assault on Rafah, a designated safe zone in the Gaza Strip where millions of Palestinians have been seeking refuge. Israeli air strikes killed at least 45 people that day, an attack that has been internationally condemned. “What happened last night was the latest — and possibly most cruel — abomination,” a United Nations statement reads. Nearly a million people have been displaced, subsequent air strikes hit another designated safe zone, hundreds of thousands of children are at risk and hundreds still are attempting to flee.

As the humanitarian crisis intensifies, millions of people have taken to Instagram to show their support for people in Palestine with a graphic emblazoned with the words “All Eyes on Rafah”. Becoming a movement of sorts, the viral image has been shared widely across feeds in the last 24 hours, provoking debate on social media.

At the time of writing, the image has been shared by 39.9 million accounts, including those of prominent celebrities like singer Kehlani, Bridgerton star Nicola Coughlan, and Indian actor Varun Dhawan.


Credit: Instagram / @shahv4012

The template was created by Instagram user @shahv4012, who has put together multiple graphics in solidarity in Palestine during the ongoing war, giving the option for other users to share them more widely. It’s been reported to be an AI-generated image, one depicting Palestinian refugee camps overlaid with the words “All Eyes on Rafah” constructed by white tents.

Instagram, where the viral story is most predominantly being shared, has been accused of shadow-banning content about Palestine since October last year. In December, a report by Human Rights Watch found that Meta, parent company to Instagram and Facebook, has engaged in “systemic online censorship” and the “silencing voices in support of Palestine” since hostilities had began between Israeli forces and Hamas following the Oct. 7 terrorist attack. A Meta spokesperson responded to Mashable about the report, saying “the implication that we deliberately and systemically suppress a particular voice is false.”

The viewership on the “All Eyes on Rafah” story has seemingly surpassed visibility issues on the app, and is continuing to gain traction. Social media users have pointed out that this is arguably the most widely-shared graphic in support of Palestine during the war. This may be, in part, because the story could be shared with the use of Instagram’s “Add Yours” template.

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The slogan “All eyes on Rafah” has been repeated for months, initially coined by Dr Rick Peeperkorn, a World Health Organization director. Peeperkorn uttered the words in February, when an Israeli invasion into Rafah was then still considered just a possibility. In a press briefing from Rafah, Peeperkorn said this would be an “unfathomable catastrophe, further expanding the humanitarian disaster beyond all imagination.” According to Forbes, social justice groups and humanitarian organizations, along with influencers and activists, have utilized the phrase to bring attention to the ongoing violence in Rafah.

But there has been criticism for the “All Eyes on Rafah” image post. Several viral posts about it on X (formerly Twitter) are condemning the “performative” nature and timing of the online movement, arriving over seven months into the war. Others are critical that the story, and those sharing it, have not linked to any real information, resources, or funds that show support for Palestinians in more tangible ways. “The issue with ‘performative’ mass-posting is that it doesn’t link to any resources, information or action,” wrote one user in a thread. “Participation especially from ppl who were largely silent feels self-serving.”

Some have also flagged that the image possibly being AI-generated is taking away from real images of the violence engulfing Rafah now, shared by civilians and journalists on the ground. “Palestinians have to record and document everything they’re enduring in Rafah just so the world believes them so to reshare an ai generated template is sooooooo weird actually,” posted user @tashteshtish.

Still, others believe that regardless of the means, the message and momentum is needed.

This viral story is one of many digital movements spurred by Israel’s war on Gaza. Most recently, TikTokkers have called for a “digital guillotine”, or the online blocking of celebrities and influencers who have not used their privilege to bring worthy attention to the atrocities taking place. Separately, digital activists and others have used TikTok tools to protest and subsequently increase engagement on educational videos about Gaza.

The predominant criticism of the viral movement is that awareness is no longer enough, nor is it enough to share an AI-generated story as the devastation of Palestine continues. It is hard to understand why some people are just opening their eyes now, as many are saying, and perhaps it is also time that “awareness” is turned into meaningful action and contribution — which, one can hope, is ultimately the outcome of any social justice movement on social media.