Meet the Creator of 'Hot Migrants': The Instagram Angering The Internet
When Zakaria first arrived at my apartment in NYC last week, his month-old novelty Instagram account, “Hot Migrants,” seemed like a pet project with some edgy humor to sate its modest 200 followers. That was a day before New York Magazine wrote about it. And then Buzzfeed. Even Russia Today. By the time he had to leave the city and head back to his home near Washington D.C., Zakaria’s account had drawn in over 2,000 followers (it’s at 3,000 now) and ruffled many more feathers.
Which isn’t to say the anger is unwarranted. After all, the “Hot Migrants” account posts screenshots of Middle Eastern men caught in the midst of the current European migrant crisis. “Stop fetishizing refugees,” one comment reads. “This person is clearly unhinged and has lost their humanity,” says another.
Given the amount of xenophobic rhetoric and dehumanization surrounding the humanitarian crisis, it’s not unreasonable to see the timing of “Hot Migrants” as vexingly inappropriate. Prodding humanity’s vanity in the face of tragedy, the account’s description reads, “Their countries might be falling apart but their sex appeal still goes strong.” Yes, it’s crass. It’s base. But it also succeeds in putting (attractive) faces on the displaced people politicians have so vilified.
After letting him pick his own pseudonym, we reached out to Zakaria to learn more about what inspired him to start the account, his own history as a man of Middle Eastern descent, and how it felt to “troll the entire world.”
A lot of the controversy surrounding “Hot Migrants” seems to stem from how users read the comedy. What drove you to make the account originally, and where do you find the humor?
I was watching incoming videos of people stuck at the Greek Macedonian border in Idomeni. It was heart wrenching to see everyone there being shut out. They’ve risked their lives and everything they know for a chance to start anew. They are going to have to start from nothing. In the middle of that train of thought, I caught myself checking out one of the guys, who was pleading for the border to open. I was like, “Wow, this feels kinda wrong.” But why? These are people just like me. Do I disregard their good looks because they are in a crappy situation? People can’t be miserable all the time.
Do you have a personal connection to the account’s subject matter?
I come from a family of refugees, so we know the long-term implications of having to uproot your life. I’ve been to the refugee camps. I know what it’s like to be stateless, and I know how suffocating it is to feel stuck away from home. So, for all the people who think I’m some basic Becky drooling over her next hot husband…that Becky is running some other account. This account continues a very important conversation about how the world reacts to a crisis. I want people to put a face on this crisis, something to make [the refugees] seem more human to those [who] would otherwise ignore them.
What purpose do you think Instagram serves as a social media platform?
Instagram is great if you’re sharing your life with friends. There are probably thousands of accounts of hot people pimping themselves out to the world. They have followers in the thousands. And for what? People are shallow, and think that they’re hot. If it’s not aesthetically pleasing, if it doesn’t make you feel good, then it doesn’t belong on Instagram.
This account has blown up. How has the experience been so far?
Overwhelming and puzzling. A lot of unexpected things have come out of it. Someone tried to pay me for my account. Then there were people sending me their photos—or worse, photos of other people to feature without even asking them.
It definitely didn’t feel great when people called me tasteless. The captions may have been inappropriate, but they were catchy. Why waste good wit?
Stay tuned to Milk for more on the refugee crisis.