Ukraine, Russia, and the war on social media

TikTok has been accused of taking a too light-hearted approach to the Ukraine war.
TikTok is one of many social media sites being accused of not addressing the Ukraine situation seriously enough. Source: iXimus (via Pixabay)

By Vicky Witts | Head of Comment

The Russia-Ukraine war has been discussed as the main feature of most news media outlets and publications to an almost overwhelming degree over the past few weeks. Publications have covered the conflict from numerous angles, detailing everything from the tragic number of casualties, to the implications that the fighting has on a global scale. 

There has also been a surge of posts on social media and entertainment platforms covering the war. Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, have often been used in the past as a platform for the public to express their thoughts and opinions on a range of economic, social, and political issues, and the situation in Ukraine has been no different. Users of these sites have predominantly voiced sympathy and support for those currently in Ukraine, including a range of celebrities and public figures. For example, actor Ryan Reynolds has used twitter to pledge that he will match all donations through the organisation ‘USA for UNHCR’ to Ukrainian refugees, up to $1,000,000. 

More surprisingly, however, has been the response of TikTok users regarding the conflict. 

With the tag-line ‘make your day’ on the platform’s website, the presence of war-focused content seems almost entirely out of place. However, a number of videos and trends have emerged focused on the situation, ranging from short informative videos, to comedic sketches addressing Valdamir Putin. With such a large number of these videos taking on a humorous, and seemingly light-hearted tone, it brings into question whether or not TikTok is an appropriate platform to discuss such sensitive topics.

A serious issue

On paper, making jokes about an ongoing war where real lives are at risk, or have tragically already been lost, seems extremely insensitive, and inappropriate for a platform such as TikTok which usually features the likes of dance challenges, and comedy content. 

Some trends in particular, including one where women suggest that they would rather revert back to an antifeminist patriarchal society where they ‘belong in the kitchen’ rather than fighting in the war, seem to lack all sympathy for the large number of women and children in Ukraine who are being forced to fight and protect their country, without the option to ‘lose their feminism’. 

Humour as a coping mechanism

To completely dismiss all of the online humour around the situation however, does ignore one of the main reasons that people are choosing to make this kind of content in the first place- powerlessness. Many people watching and reading about the events of the Russia-Ukraine war are feeling guilt and hopelessness at their inability to help those who are suffering.

Other than giving donations and signing petitions, there seems to be very little that people observing the situation externally can do to help, and in a sense, using humour on platforms such as TikTok may be both a way of showing support for Ukraine publicly, and a coping strategy to deal with the dark truths of the war and its casualties. 

While taking on a far lighter tone that much of digital and print media platforms, trends such as creating compilations of clips of Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy have been used to show widespread support for the leader, and his actions throughout the war, while also creating a sense of optimism and hope that is not reflected in the broader, fact-focused media. 

Finding a balance

Evidently, not all of the comedic content focused on the Ukraine situation found online is appropriate, with some of it seeming insensitive and unsympathetic within the serious content of the war. 

However, in a society living in the shadow of a global pandemic, as well as numerous other negative events, humour has become a wide-spread method for staying optimistic, and maintaining some feeling of control in serious situations. 

What is really important is finding a balance between using strategies to cope online in a negative global environment, while also remaining socially conscious. 

Victoria Witts Comment

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