May 30, 2024 - World

What's behind the "All Eyes on Rafah" image that went viral on social media

Palestinians, who have sought refuge in Deir al-Balah after the Israeli army targeted tents in Rafah, previously declared as a 'safe zone' by Israel, are struggling to survive among the rubble of destroyed buildings under harsh conditions in Deir Al Balah, Gaza on May 30,

The rubble of destroyed buildings in Deir Al Balah, Gaza on May 30. Photo: Abed Rahim Khatib/Anadolu via Getty Images

In the wake of a deadly Israeli strike at a tent camp in Rafah earlier this week, an image calling for people to pay closer attention to the events in the Gazan city has spread like wildfire on social media.

Why it matters: Unlike other viral content throughout the Israel-Hamas war, the image appears to be AI-generated and has drawn criticism for sanitizing the catastrophic humanitarian toll of the war on Gaza.

  • The strike caused a fire that killed at least 45 displaced Palestinians, with witnesses describing scenes of people being burned alive in their tents, the Washington Post reported.

State of play: The viral image depicts neat rows of tents in what appears to be a refugee camp in the desert, surrounded by snowy mountains. Some of the tents are arranged to spell out the words "all eyes on Rafah."

  • The image is credited to a relatively unknown Instagram account and the user did not respond to Axios' request for comment.
  • The image bears some hallmarks of AI generation, including being unnaturally symmetrical and having unusual shadows, per NBC News.
  • Yet the image has spread widely on social media — especially on Instagram stories, aided by the platform's handy "add yours" feature. It has wracked up more than 47 million shares over the past three days.

The big picture: Though the image was purportedly intended to bring attention to the plight of Palestinians, some have criticized it for containing no actionable information and have compared it to the "slacktivism" of the viral black square posts during the 2020 racial justice protests.

  • "Gaza is not a sanitized AI-generated landscape with snow-capped mountains ... it's collapsed buildings with bodies buried. It's burnt tents and trash and human remains," Daniel Etter, a photographer, wrote in an Instagram post.
  • The spread of a seemingly fake, palatable image calling attention to Gaza comes as social media platforms have censored or taken down photos and videos from Palestinian journalists on the ground in Rafah, saying they are too graphic, NBC News reported.
  • More than 35,000 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza during the war.
tweet of the viral "all eyes on rafah" photo
The viral "all eyes on Rafah" photo seen in a social media post. Photo: The Palestinian/X

Zoom out: In reaction to the viral image, an Israeli Instagram user used AI to create a similar image showing a Hamas gunman standing over a baby, with the words "Where were your eyes on October 7?" superimposed, the Times of Israel reported.

  • The image racked up about 500,000 shares before being briefly removed from Instagram on Wednesday. It was reinstated hours later.

Context: Israel's potential invasion of Rafah has been a particular point of tension between the Biden administration and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government for months.

  • The Israeli airstrike this weekend killed at least 45 displaced Palestinians, making it the deadliest attack on Rafah since Israel began its offensive on the city earlier this month.
  • The Biden administration is still assessing whether the refugee camp strike is a violation of President Biden's "red line" and if it could lead to a shift in U.S. policy regarding the war.

Go deeper: Israeli airstrike kills dozens in Rafah tent camp, Gaza authorities say

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