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57,000-Person Protest on Roblox: Is Digital Protesting The Future?

In cities across the world, tens of thousands of marches have taken place calling for an end to the Israeli bombing of Gaza. At the time of writing, over 10,500 Palestinians have been killed, with over 1,300 children reported as missing and 25,000 people injured. People are taking to the streets to demand that their governments call for a ceasefire or a humanitarian pause to the conflict.

Protests provide one with a semblance of control amid feelings of immense grief, isolation, and helplessness. They connect people to their community and neighbours with a shared empathy and understanding of the injustices they see. However, those who cannot take to the streets have begun to turn to innovative, new ways to unite and protest.

Children and young people who cannot attend in-person protests have used the virtual world to unite. In a surprising adaptation of the online platform, Roblox, which boasts over 65 million daily active users, has seen its users support Palestine in virtual protests staged on the video game. 57,000 people attended the protest on Roblox. In some footage, players can be seen waving Palestinian flags and the flags of their own countries, with one sign reading “Solitary Untukmu”, meaniong “Solidarity for you” in Malay.

Responding to the Roblox Palestine protests, Roblox Corporation issued a statement:

“We are deeply saddened by the horrific tragedy unfolding in Israel and Gaza, and our hearts go out to those who are impacted in the area or who have loved ones, family and friends in the region … While our Community Standards allow for expressions of solidarity, we do not allow for content that endorses or condones violence, promotes terrorism or hatred against individuals or groups, or calls for supporting a specific political party.”

This unprecedented politicisation of a worldwide-reaching gaming space demonstrates how impassioned its users are by the Free Palestine movement.

Moreover, it also draws attention to the exclusivity of in-person protests, especially for children and young people whose disenfranchisement omits their voices and views in national political affairs.

Whilst Roblox is primarily a gaming space, and its users have adapted its purpose to host Pro-Palestine protests, other emerging platforms are being developed to provide online space for effective digital protesting specifically. On August 26th 2023, the Don’t Extradite Assange campaign hosted the first-ever virtual rally in the Metaverse. An avatar represented each attendee and could interact with other attendees and listen to speeches – emulating the atmosphere of an in-person rally. The pioneering campaign used Metaverse to unite advocates for the cause worldwide.

Not only has innovation in digital protesting unlocked a medium for protestors to connect and interact globally. It has also come at a time when protestor rights are under attack across the West.

In the UK, the Police, Crime, Sentencing & Courts Act, enacted in April 2022, has seriously eroded protester rights. Protest marches, static demonstrations, and one-person protests are all treated alike. A protester faces arrest if they are disrupting the life of the community, including by way of physical obstruction, in a way that is “more than minor”. As a protest organiser, you could face up to 6 months in prison and/or a £2,500 fine for breaching the conditions laid out by the act; as an attendee, you could face a fine of up to £2,500. Protests and demonstrations are closely surveyed, and police are increasingly testing the boundaries of individual privacy rights. Just recently, we saw the suspension of the Labour MP, Andy McDonald, for allegedly sharing antisemitic views when speaking at a pro-Palestine rally. Calling for peace between Israel and Palestine, McDonald said: “Until all people, Israelis and Palestinians, between the river and the sea can live in peaceful liberty.”

Joining a digital protest is like sticking up a middle finger to police surveillance because it provides protestors with a shield of anonymity. Meanwhile, collaborating with people in your immediate community and with people from across the globe is immensely invigorating. In a system intent on isolating and atomising everyone by staging internal conflicts, a platform that unites people from across the globe for a single cause is powerful.

Adults and young children alike are protesting in outrage at the collective punishment of Palestinian civilians by the Israeli government. They are condemning their own governments for ignoring these war crimes and supporting the occupation both on the ground and in the digital.

Image: roshanotgamer/via Kotaku

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