Monday, Oct 03, 2022

Social Media In Time Of War: How Jokes And Memes Are Ruling The Information Warfare

Satires, jokes, and opinions on war are not a new thing. But, never in the history of wars and conflict, a joke travelled at the speed of 20 Gigabits-per-second (Gbps). With google translation and a colonial past, language is hardly a barrier to communication today.

Social Media in time of war
Social Media in time of war

“First time dying, kinda a nervous”, “First war guys, what should I wear?” and then a really dark one, “Smile for the history book picture.”-these are a few GenZ posts collected by Instagram handle @withukraine, the handle that is posting live updates and videos from war-torn Ukraine while expressing anguish in a post explained how these memes and Tik Tok videos make Ukrainians anxious and that for anyone this might be dark humour but for Ukrainians it is a living reality.

Dark humour, which is described by many researchers as a kind of coping mechanism by people in extreme distress, has become a part of how we communicate on social media.
Satires, jokes, and opinions on War are not a new thing. But, never in the history of wars and conflict, a joke travelled at the speed of 20 Gigabits-per-second (Gbps). With google translation and a colonial past, language is hardly a barrier to communication today.
The scene in India is no different. Ironically, the meme pages that are posting jokes on the Ukraine-Russia crisis are also acting as a medium for Indian students stuck in the war-torn country to send live updates back home. After Union Minister Pralhad Joshi said that 90 per cent of Indians who study abroad fail to pass qualifiers in India, opinions again flooded social media.

One can only wonder what those students feel when they see fellow Indians cracking jokes not only on war and geopolitics but also on their merit. Probably, when one is occupied with thoughts of survival, walking for hours in the snow, jokes on merit are the last thing that worries them.

Social media as a tool for Information Warfare

As Russian soldiers entered Kharkiv, so did their mobile and social media presence. Reportedly, Ukrainian women started receiving right swipes from invading Russian soldiers on dating app Tinder.

Soon apprehensions about Russian soldiers sharing intel with their tinder Ukrainian matches also became a topic for hot takes on social media

This research on how social media is used as a tool of information warfare is worth mentioning here. It describes social media as a “weapon of words that influence the hearts and minds of a target audience and a weapon of mass disruption that can have effects on targets.”

By rapidly disseminating visual information with the added gaze of carefully constructed narratives, parties engaging in conflict, be it government, insurgent groups, terrorists or even common people can shape public opinion.

As the Russian-Ukrainian conflict intensified, ‘The IT Army of Ukraine’ tweeted " Go to Google Maps. Go to Russia. Find a restaurant or business and write a review. When you write the review explain what is happening in Ukraine.”

This was reportedly done by Ukrainians to counter “Putin’s propaganda” in Russia. Images of Russians protesting and being detained against Putin’s “military operation” in Ukraine also flooded social media. After these accounts started getting blocked, another post on Instagram by a digital creator Val Voshchevska on her Instagram account @vally_v, suggested that famous accounts of Russian influencers be targeted with comments detailing the situation in Ukraine.

On Wednesday, a video from 2012, of Ahed Tamimi, a girl from Palestine, went viral on social media. It was even shown on Indian news channels as a Ukrainian girl fighting a Russian soldier. The capability of social media to play as a tool of appropriation has widely been discussed, but appropriating a young Palestinian girl’s struggle fighting an Israeli soldier is a new low.  

Scrolling In Times of War 

Explore page on Instagram, where different posts appear based on algorithm presents one of the most iconic sights. In one such example, on the right side of my 3-column explore page was a weekly guidance post by a Tarot Card reader captioned: “What’s coming next?”, on the left side was a news card by BBC that read “President Putin puts nuclear deterrent on ‘special alert’ and placed at the centre was a vegan recipe to save the world."

Present, when seen through the prism of social media, appears in its truest form; Chaotic. What happens when chaos is just a click away on your phone? A strangely comfortable apathy absorbs us. Unlike the times when reading the newspaper in the morning and watching prime time show at 9 pm, was the only source of consuming news, today, we are flooded with information 24/7.

Scrolling through stories is even more mind-numbing, in one story an Indian couple is dancing and celebrating their wedding, and in the next story, someone has shared a video of a couple being separated in Ukraine. In the widely circulated video, the mother is taking the daughter along with her while the father bids teary goodbye to his young crying daughter. And then in just the next story, an influencer shares a reel dancing to the song “life goes on and on and on” 

However, there’s nothing new to the chaotic and somewhat hysterical picture social media paints in our minds. When the Covid-19 induced lockdown was announced for the first time, posts on lakhs of migrant workers who walked for miles, sometimes barefoot, sometimes on an empty stomach, to reach their villages in March 2020, appeared along with recipes of 'dalgona' coffee and banana bread on our feeds.

The truth is, life goes on, but with social media, the pace has become much faster. We get over things even before they can get under our skin.