The “Memefication” of the War in Ukraine: Has Social Media Commodified Tragedy?


The world woke up on the 24th of February 2022 with the horrifying news that war broke out in Europe. As major news outlets shared footage from Ukraine, Gen Z and millennials rushed to Twitter, Instagram and Tiktok to post the most “relatable” and “witty” content. This translated into a myriad of insensible posts about war used by netizens, especially in the US, but in Western Europe as well, to “cope” with the current situation, while Ukrainians were going through the beginning of what by now we can see is to be one of the greatest tragedies in Ukraine’s history and in the recent history of Europe.


Thousands of ordinary Americans responded to Russia’s invasion by joking about being drafted, complaining about “living through historical events” or asking themselves if they should be going to work during a war, even one that does not implicate their country. These statements are, of course, nonsensical in the current context, where we are mere watchers to this horrible point in history, not the ones living through constant shelling, without electricity or running water. This reality is the one that the “Squid Game” World War 3 or the already dated Titanic memes are ignoring.

It is not about completely erasing any ounce of humor when dealing with a grim situation, but about the constant need of infantilizing and of joking about serious world events that ultimately transforms real-life tragedies into commodities to boost your online presence. However controversial, “Don’t Look Up” proved exactly this point: people in the 21st century cannot comprehend difficult information so the convenient response is internet humor. In the same sick narrative, we see Marvel fans already casting the actor for Zelensky in the (future?) movie about the war and celebrities posting self-promos related to the invasion. The award for the most ‘Gal Galdot Imagine’ moment of this crisis has to go to this actress’s embarrassing American savior moment where she tried more or less to promote herself but failed miserably. In her viral video, she explained that if she were the mother of Vladimir Putin, this war would’ve never happened. She is an example of how quickly the run for social media currency points can turn humiliating: “Dear President Putin… If I was your mother, you would have been so loved, held in the arms of joyous light”.

On the day of the invasion, the official account of Ukraine on Twitter posted a political cartoon picturing Adolf Hitler smiling and gently stroking a smaller and frailer Vladimir Putin. This sparked many comments asking if the people in Ukraine running the account had the time to post “memes” while being attacked. The official account responded by saying that it is not a meme, “but our reality right now”. Of course, it is safe to say that these people calling a political cartoon a meme haven’t really paid attention during history classes, but the fact that internet users are so quick to call anything a meme still stands, even when it is a cartoon that actually shows the horrid state of our world.

Alas, is this enough to say that we are becoming more and more insensible because of the internet? In some ways, yes. The saying goes that if you’re not the one affected by the event of your joke, are you really supposed to joke about it? Do we really have to rush to post memes and funny posts on social media about a tragedy as we would for any big international event, hoping that the aftermath would be a “hit” post with at least 20k likes? Haven’t we become too greedy for social media recognition?

To answer the aforementioned tweet: No you are not living through the war and you should go to work and go on living your life and you shouldn’t be worried that you’re “living through historical events”. What we shouldn’t do is milk a horrible on-going event for 10k likes on Twitter. As Vlasta Pilot, an artist and Tiktok creator, said for TheCut:  “Making memes requires a certain level of detachment”, and right now many choose unknowingly to themselves to turn slaughter into content. What does that say about the state of the world right now, and especially of the state of Gen Z?




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