Ukrainian Invasion: Now’s Not The Time For Memes

Daria Paterek

Social media has allowed people worldwide to witness the horrors of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and show solidarity to Ukrainians. It has also helped in demystifying the lies put forward by various Russian government propaganda. However, there has been a darker response to this situation, argues Daria Paterek. 

On Thursday morning, Russia invaded Ukraine. This invasion was followed by massive destruction, displacement, and death. Social media users – mostly in the US and UK – have been creating memes to “cope with the conflict” – despite not being directly affected by it. 

I don’t believe that all the memes are necessarily in poor taste

Before Russia invaded Ukraine, memes about a potential world war were already rife on social media. Following the invasion, “#WWIII” begun to trend on Twitter. Many posts criticise the passivity of world leaders. However, other users create and spread memes – but there is a distinction in these memes. Some refer to users being recruited for WWIII, whereas others are for political satire. I don’t believe that all the memes are necessarily in poor taste. Political memes that question the actions of Western leaders and are used to convey the hypocrisy and passivity of the West can be beneficial, such as this one:

However, not all memes and jokes are educative or purposeful. For example, Gen-Z has attempted to directly respond to Putin by spamming his social media comments with phrases such as “Vladdy Daddy” and “stop, this isn’t you”. While on the surface, these jokes may seem like funny comments that indirectly attack Putin, what is the point of them?

Some people argue that ‘dark humour’ is a way to deal with anxiety and uncertainty. What are users – who live outside of the conflict zone – dealing with though? They are not dealing with the invasion of their country, the uncertainty of whether they will survive, or the thoughts of where they will seek refuge.

This self-inflicted victimisation should not justify highly offensive content. These comments are a blatant display of privilege. Users like this can detach themselves from the situations. I believe that the only people that should use memes as a coping mechanism are the people directly affected by these events – since they are the ones coping. As people make jokes on their mobile phones, sitting in their homes, before they sleep in their warm bed, they will never know the horror Ukrainian people experience as they hide in subways to survive

These memes and comments are simply a result of privilege

Comments like “daddy please stop the war”, have no use. None of the comments directly address Putin, as the Russian president does not have a personal social media platform. A Twitter user commented, “To a lot of Americans, war is abstract, unfathomable. You’ve never seen a city in pieces. You’ve never feared war planes overhead. It’s so surreal that perhaps you reach for a joke out of discomfort. If this is you, don’t.”

To most people in the West, war is not something that has ever affected them or their families. These memes and comments are simply a result of privilege.

However, social media has also been a powerful tool in educating UK audiences and demonstrating support and solidarity to Ukraine. Ukrainians have used social media to update international audiences about bombings, casualties, and the current situation.

Additionally, users from nearby countries have used social media to organise donations, advertise housing, and to tell Ukrainians that they don’t need a visa to seek refuge with their neighbours. UK audiences have used social media to spread donation links, and a petition for military support to Ukraine has gained over 28,000 signatures.

Social media also exhibited the bravery of Russian people, who despite the risk of heavy punishment, attended rallies to protest the invasion. Through this, social media has shown that support for Ukraine is widespread. Social media users also called out performative activism. For example, Downing Street was lit up with the colours of Ukraine’s flag on Friday night. Many users criticised this move, claiming that the UK can help Ukraine more. 

While most social media content has been educative, the continued meme culture perpetuated by western countries such as the UK has been insensitive and crude

While memes can potentially be a coping mechanism, the war in Ukraine has taken over 100 lives. There is a time and place for jokes. Now is not the time. While most social media content has been educative, the continued meme culture perpetuated by western countries such as the UK has been insensitive and crude.

Daria Paterek

Featured image courtesy of Max Kukurudziak via Unsplash. Image license found here. No changes were made to this image.

In-article image courtesy of @Ab4oy7dThe via No changes were made to these images.

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