Now Reading: The Correlation Between World War 3 And Twitter: How Memes Are Killing Empathy


The Correlation Between World War 3 And Twitter: How Memes Are Killing Empathy

January 8, 20208 min read

The first meme of 2020 was World War 3. Why is it that when news breaks, our immediate reaction is to scroll past the headlines and facts, all the way down to the reaction videos and sadistic jokes? We want a good laugh to lighten up the situation, to make it easier on us—it’s just human nature. But while humor is always a quick fix when the world is facing burdensome times, certain situations are not—and should not be made—easy, especially by people who are not facing such troubles in the first place.

To put it in perspective, when someone with a limited knowledge of current events hits send on their WW3 tweet, which is a joke about avoiding the draft (by means of pretending to be female or disabled, perhaps), where are they sitting? In a home, an apartment? Possibly a college dorm? What country are they in? America, Canada—one of the numerous, wealthy Western nations? They’ve most likely never experienced war in their own country, correct? For most of the people who are typing and laughing at such tweets, the answer to all of these questions is almost certainly yes.

They’re not in Iran, and they’re not going to be on the front lines anytime soon, so why are they even afraid of the war (that isn’t even a war yet)? They say they’re using dark humor in this time of such difficult conflict to “cope,” but what do they have to cope with? The war is not in their nation, and will most likely never even scathe them. The truth is, they aren’t truly fearing the war or its effects. They have just become so used to sensationalizing every situation in society that serious events in other’s lives immediately become self-centered jokes to them.

It would be ridiculous if I didn’t address the rather problematic elephant in the room. This elephant I speak of? Oh, it’s the fact that many of these memes patronize and mock women, disabled people and those who are generally ineligible for the draft. While many of these are jokes based on previous draft stereotypes, such as the country’s history of female ineligibility and shunning of gay men from the army, many are downright ignorant. From male influencers throwing a wig on, to people feigning disabilities for likes, Twitter is using every excuse in the book (that isn’t theirs to use) in order to evade the non-existent draft.

We must remember why it’s not a laughing matter: many people who have faced such obstacles did not have a choice whether they wanted to be eligible or not. They did not wake up and get to say, today I’ll be colorblind. They are colorblind everyday. They are ineligible everyday. It is a privilege only few have, joking about temporarily imposing such limitations and restrictions upon themselves. And how odd it is—people using another group’s struggles and ineligibility to fan their own, conceded self-interests.

The people who are actually experiencing trauma and feeling the effects of the impending conflict are the Iranians overseas who fear for their families’ safety as carnage develops outside their homes. They are not the teenagers who are tucked away safely in the comfort of their suburbs, scrolling mindlessly through images of bombed cities and Australian wildfires without stopping once. They can say that they are numb and heartbroken from all the bad news of the world, which is most likely true, but that doesn’t mean they have the right to spin other people’s misfortune into memes. We are all torn up, watching the world quite literally burn, but that doesn’t mean we can just stop feeling empathetic for others.

Social media, specifically Twitter due to its hyperactivity and accessibility, has allowed us to slip into a state of either caring only about ourselves or not caring at all. Unless something directly affects us or a celebrity we like, we either pay it no attention or work it into our comedy routine. When we’re notified of airstrikes in Iran that most likely killed innocents, we don’t feel empathy for them. We just start cranking out memes left and right or spin into despair thinking about the possibility of having to fight for our country. Do we consider those who are going to be displaced by this conflict, or those who are going to be killed? We don’t want to fight a war, but I can assure you that Iranians who would lose their homes and families on their own soil don’t either. But where are their coping mechanisms disguised as dark humor? Where are their World War 3 memes?

People who suffer the real trauma of these conflicts rarely get to cope, and especially not with humor. We have a privilege of doing something real victims do not for a struggle that is not truly ours. But now that Iran has fired missiles at U.S. forces in Iraq, Americans are beginning to truly worry. They halt the memes and say, wait, for real? Was it not realistic enough when they were cracking jokes in the first place? Were they not already coping with their deep-rooted trauma? No? That’s because they never did experience any trauma or distress. Once they feel as though their own nation has been threatened, it’s no longer humorous, yet it was all fun and games when it was just Iranian civilians at stake.

When our reaction to airstrikes is posting a reaction TikTok, we no longer understand the gravity of such violence. Other people’s hardships and deaths are just joke material for us. And at that point, we have lost the ability to feel their pain and to sympathize with them. Though we claim to lighten the situation for others with our humor, jokes are only funny when other people’s safety is on the line. When there’s no imminent danger in our nation, we’re all giggles. We’re willing to use other people’s struggles to promote our own self-interest until it actually does become our struggle.

Featured image via Pixabay/Pexels

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Mary Dodys

I cover the politics of pop culture—from celebrities scandals to the flaws in cancel culture. I'm always down for an album review, too. You can find me creating, whether I'm writing or painting.