Deb Perelman, the best-selling cookbook author and creator of Smitten Kitchen, tends to focus her social media posts on her work, like pasta or chocolate chip cookie recipes. But days after Hamas attacked Israel, she called the violence “repugnant” on Instagram and expressed dread for “death and destruction now ahead on both sides.”
Subsequently, she posted about her newborn niece and apple picking with her children. Her direct messages immediately filled with irate notes.
“How can you post a couple of paragraphs and go on about apple pies? You are Jewish,” one user wrote. Another questioned why she “never once had a ping of conscience” about “70 years of brutal occupation.” Someone else demanded she say more, adding that Ms. Perelman looked “exactly like one of the hostages in Gaza that are being tortured and raped.”
“The fury in my DMs was unparalleled,” Ms. Perelman said in an interview, adding that she had already received a torrent of messages criticizing her “silence” before she acknowledged the attacks. “There was a feeling that I was either condoning genocide or I wasn’t calling it genocide when it happened, or I wasn’t using enough incendiary language.”
People who work across industries — from famous online influencers to those with far less prominent online profiles, including a yoga teacher, interior designer and tech and real estate workers — said in interviews that they faced an expectation to share their opinions about the war. The pressure is conveyed either explicitly or subtly from friends and followers. Silence is viewed by many as its own statement.
They said they realized, though, that posting came with costs, including angry outpourings and personal attacks. It is a particularly complex scenario for those, like Ms. Perelman, whose livelihood depends on constantly updating her feeds on topics that don’t often veer into the political.
Some people who have responded to the war publicly, particularly in support of Palestinian statehood, have faced professional repercussions, including members of Harvard student groups who were doxxed when those groups posted an open letter blaming Israel after Hamas’s attacks. The editor of Artforum was fired after the magazine’s staff published an open letter supporting Palestinian liberation, and the editor in chief of Harper’s Bazaar faced calls to resign after saying the cutoff of water and electricity to civilians in Gaza was “the most inhuman thing I’ve seen in my life.” She quickly apologized.
“You see so many posts and videos saying ‘your silence is deafening’ — which is a very challenging thing to respond to,” said Phoebe Lind, 24, who works at an energy start-up in Washington. She has not yet shared her opinions online about the war, though she is still weighing doing so.
Of course, many people see immense importance in posting on social media about the war. It signals support for communities being harmed and can educate followers, possibly sway decision makers and help with processing weighty emotions.
Social media feeds have focused on major news events many times before. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a uniquely thorny and divisive issue to navigate on social media, though, particularly for those not educated about the region or its history, or who are still forming their opinions.
Maddie Coppola, 25, is an interior designer in New York who typically uses Instagram to follow design trends and learn about new restaurants. Over the past two weeks, her feeds have become bifurcated, with some friends posting that they “stand with Israel” and others posting infographics about the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.
Ms. Coppola has avoided wading into discussions on social media, because, she said, she has struggled to find information that she trusts about the conflict, and she feels that her own views are evolving. She also worries about upsetting friends or colleagues with her posts.
“I don’t want to bring this into my work life,” Ms. Coppola said. “You have to tread very carefully, especially when you’re coming from a place where you don’t feel like you know very much about what’s going on.”
The complexity and scale of the conflict can feel, to some, almost impossible to distill in posts on Instagram and X. Many sense that their friends or relatives want them to post or repost some indication of their political leanings, yet they say that anything they choose to share wouldn’t capture the depth of their emotions or views.
“The current discussion of the issue feels very reductive,” said Andrey Romanov, who works in communications for a university. “There’s no room for nuance.”
Nazhath Faheema, who is Muslim and works at an interfaith charity in Singapore, said she was profoundly aware of the conflict’s impact on Muslim and Jewish communities. People of both faiths have asked her to post about the war on social media, she said, and sending her graphic images. Ms. Faheema, 38, said she had been trolled by some users asking her: “Are you even a Muslim?”
She instead opted to write a post about her decision to keep her views private as she took time to process her emotions.
“I cannot put into words the pain I’ve gone through” to decide to post on the topic, she said. “Worrying which friend is not going to be friends with me; worrying who’s going to attack me; and even wondering, are people thinking that I am just a bad person?”
The speed with which social media cycles move can breed pressure to post about news events just hours after they occur, sometimes before there are many known facts about what happened. That is complicated by the fact that on Facebook and Instagram, the Stories feature disappear after 24 hours, prompting people to keep posting fresh content.
“Places like Instagram aren’t designed for activism — they’re designed for people to engage in ads so that corporations can make money,” said Minaa B., a social worker and author with more than 270,000 Instagram followers, who uses that name professionally. “The goal is to keep you posting and keep you engaged by continuously posting.”
“It is not a space for nuance,” she said, adding that she did not about the war. “It is not a space that often cultivates healthy dialogue in conversation.”
Witnessing the backlash toward people who have been outspoken, some social media users are posting candidly in the hopes that they will make members of their online communities feel safer and more comfortable disclosing their own views.
“A lot of people on LinkedIn don’t speak up because they’re like, ‘Oh this is a professional network,’” said Agneez Kang, 37, who is job searching after working in retail, and who uses her LinkedIn profile to express concerns about civilian deaths in Gaza, which felt important to her as a “brown woman,” she said
“I posted knowing full on it could possibly affect my job prospects,” Ms. Kang continued. “I don’t want to work for a company that doesn’t value free speech and would penalize me for speaking up on an important topic.”
Ms. Perelman said that she did not regret acknowledging the conflict. In this social environment, she said, “if people are going to be furious at me for something they think that I think, I’d rather they be furious at me for things I actually do think.”
Ms. Perelman shared her experience with the hateful messages on Instagram and used it as a call for donations to World Central Kitchen, the global nonprofit organization that delivers fresh meals to people in need during crises, raising upward of $180,000. That, to her, showed that people wanted to pivot their helpless, frustrated energy into a productive place, she said.
“When you’re public and you have open DMs, you’re a lightning rod for this,” she added. “I empathize with people, with all of us, who are hurting and don’t know what to do with this frustration — I just wish people understood that screaming into a cookbook author’s DMs is not bringing the hostages home.”
Yiwen Lu contributed reporting.