Tongue in cheek or blind ignorance? Instagram's 'Hot Migrants' is splitting the Internet

In a week, an account posting handsome Syrian and Afghan men has attracted more than 3,000 followers

Refugees, Syria, Afghanistan, Aylan Kurdi, Le Jungle, Hot Migrants

A selection of 'Hot Migrants' as documented on Instagram [Instagram]

Instagram, the world’s biggest photo sharing app, is known for tackling nudity and pornographic images with immediate account suspensions at even the sight of a pencil-sketched female nipple, but now the app’s administrators are coming in for more criticism – thanks to an account dedicated to ‘Hot Migrants’ of the Syrian and Afghan crises.

Either satirically or ignorantly, the account has been created to document these “handsome men on their journey to Europe,” because while “their countries might be falling apart” the men in the photos’ “sex appeal still goes strong.”

Posting images captured from news reports, ‘Hot Migrants’ has delighted and disgusted people online in equal measure, uploading images of Syrian and Afghan men with tasteless captions reading “#afghan migrant arriving by sea, his hotness can’t flee.”

Many comments on the images posted to the account raise warranted criticisms about the appropriateness of sharing images of men, handsome or otherwise, at a point in an escalating humanitarian crisis which saw nearly 2,500 refugees lose their lives while escaping from the Middle East, many drowning in the Mediterranean Sea.

The account, which has garnered more than 3,100 followers on Instagram in the seven days since the first ‘Hot Migrant’ made his debut, was set up by an anonymous 20-year-old living in Washington DC. Speaking to The Cut, the account creator said ‘Hot Migrants’ came about due to being distracted by spotting good-looking refugees in the media coverage.

A post in 'Hot Migrants', with an example of how it is splitting audiences in the comments section [Instagram]

“It is hard to overlook these people if you aren’t seeing them through their trek in Europe and it’s easy to dismiss them because the reality is far removed from you,” the account’s creator said.

“These photos bring the realities a bit closer. There is something to be said about finding comedy in such a tragedy. It helps to cope with the situation.”

Images have played an essential part in telling the plight of migrants making their way to Europe in the last year, with the publication of the body of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi washed up on a Turkish beach one of the most iconic photographs taken in the 21st century.

And blog posts and articles written by those who have visited refugee camps – like Dr Fintan Sheerin’s trip to Calais’ Le Jungle last October – can paint a vivid reality of the base conditions these migrants endure, but likely haven’t spawned as many shocked reactions or op-eds as ‘Hot Migrants’ has or will.

The satirical intent of the ‘Hot Migrants’ photos remains in the balance; certainly, tongue-in-cheek humour is an essential part of cutting through the painful reality of a crisis where the numbers of people are so large that they only exist in the abstract understanding of many people.

But when it comes to such a dismissive and – at best – edgy joke, Instagram, where there is no room for nuance or subtlety, is almost certainly the wrong place to post it.

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