AI-Generated ‘All Eyes on Rafah’ Image Goes Viral Amid Gaza Conflict

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An AI-generated image calling for attention to Israel’s ongoing conflict in Gaza has garnered over 44 million shares on Instagram within 48 hours. This surge follows a deadly Israeli airstrike, underlining a renewed social media push by Palestinian supporters.

The image, which depicts tents in a camp arranged to spell out “All Eyes on Rafah,” highlights Rafah, a southern Gaza area with refugee camps. Local officials reported at least 45 civilian deaths after an Israeli strike on Sunday. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the casualties a “tragic mishap” in Hebrew, later translated as a “tragic incident” in English by his office.

Shared primarily via Instagram Stories, the image has been posted by influencers, athletes, and celebrities like “Bridgerton” star Nicola Coughlan, singer-songwriter Kehlani, and Indian actor Varun Dhawan. Instagram has become a vital outlet for Palestinian journalists and supporters, despite Meta’s efforts to limit political content.

While the “All Eyes on Rafah” image spreads rapidly, graphic videos from Rafah posted by Palestinian journalists have faced restrictions or removal for depicting the aftermath of Israeli strikes. Instagram removed two out of three posts showing injured and dead bodies, citing violent content policy violations. However, the “All Eyes on Rafah” image avoids depicting violence, aiding its viral spread and endorsement by high-profile figures over the past eight months.

Social media consultant Matt Navarra noted that the trend of sharing “All Eyes on Rafah” has been building for a while, amplified by influencers and celebrities across various platforms. The image is also one of the first viral activist icons believed to be AI-generated. Marc Owen Jones, a Middle East studies associate professor at Hamad Bin Khalifa University, pointed out signs of AI generation, including non-photorealistic elements, unusual shadows, and symmetrical patterns typical of AI output.

Pro-Palestinian activism on social media has surged since Israel’s response to the October 7 terrorist attacks, which resulted in over 1,100 deaths and more than 200 hostages. A recent campaign targeted celebrities for not supporting Palestinians vocally. Meanwhile, pro-Israel social media activity has also spiked, driven by university campus protests and backlash against supporters of Israeli civilians.

Starting Sunday, Israeli forces advanced on Rafah, causing significant civilian casualties. Palestinians reported dozens of deaths, including children, with some caused by fires following Israeli airstrikes. An Israeli official mentioned that a fuel tank explosion triggered one of the fires.

The account that originally posted the “All Eyes on Rafah” image did not respond to requests for comment. Meta, Instagram’s parent company, is debating whether popular pro-Palestinian phrases like “from the river to the sea” violate policies while also trying to limit political speech. AI images have seen massive engagement on Meta’s platforms, including Facebook.

Navarra remarked that AI-generated content allows activists to quickly create impactful messages while adhering to platform rules. By embedding text in images, activists can bypass keyword detection moderation.

In response, several pro-Israel Instagram creators posted their own images and infographics, including one asking, “Where were your eyes on October 7?” The state of Israel’s Instagram account also joined in, posting an image with the text “All Eyes On Instagram,” claiming censorship of the “Where were your eyes on October 7?”

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