“I’m tired of living through historical events,” tweeted the American suburban teen upon hearing that Russia invaded Ukraine.
It’s true. The United States has witnessed its fair share of calamity. From the pandemic to issues of racial injustice to a country more divided than ever before, it seems the U.S. has seen a lifetime’s worth of conflict in a matter of years.
However, Americans are known for their U.S.-centric thinking. This has manifested in Americans suddenly discussing Ukraine’s plight as if it’s a personal inconvenience. It is important for these people to learn the distinction between raising awareness about a certain issue versus simply exploiting it to bring attention back to themselves.
On Feb. 24, after weeks of tension, Russia launched a large-scale invasion of Ukraine. Reports of this filled news channels and social media. However, like most issues, once the matter reached Twitter and TikTok, people began taking liberties with how to discuss the situation. One TikTok jokingly reads, “Russia just b0mbed ukraine??? hell nah i’m not going to war. I’m a woman… I belong in the kitchen cooking and cleaning smh. #fvckfeminism.”
A Vox article compiled an assortment of Twitter memes regarding the breaking news. One reads, “You have successfully finished corona virus. Your next game is World war 3” with a picture from the 2021 hit show Squid Game. Another reads, “2022 is gonna Be my year,” with a smiling picture of Joey from Friends. Beside it is another picture of Joey, frightened, with the text above it reading, “World War 3 is trending on 2nd month of 2022.”
You can’t make jokes to cope with a war which is being waged thousands of miles from where you sit. The comfort with which we mock a very real war that will no doubt result in countless lives lost is a symptom of two modern day ailments.
Social media creates an online space that makes the viewers on the other end feel almost imaginary. The scope of the internet is vast. We receive so much information daily, it’s hard to conceive that what we read really exists.
When faced with all the bad in the world on a daily basis, news of tragedy doesn’t affect us the same way it did before we had access to everything all the time. When social media users go on Twitter and see that a war has broken out, they may not immediately connect that war to people. They see another bad thing happening that they have no personal stake in.
Beyond the emotional wall of social media, claiming other’s pains for your personal rolodex of trauma is an unforeseen side effect of a generation defined by tragedy. Generation Z, specifically, has grown up in this aforementioned age of conflict. All of the previously described plights of America culminated at a time when they were coming of age.
When your life has been characterized by a series of unfortunate events, it feels impossible to exist without discord. This isn’t to say that Gen Z is the only group of young people in history to witness back-to-back troubles, but that this current moment has yielded the attitude many current young people now possess.
These young people feel the need to latch onto any general crisis, applicable to them or not, to validate their sense of belonging. These serious situations give them something new to fight for, make jokes of and/or complain about.
The solution to both of these problems is one in the same — connection.
Use social media to your advantage. Plenty of resources exist which directly connect you to Ukrainians who are telling their own stories. One TikTok video shows a Ukrainian who’s scared to leave their dog of ten years behind because bunkers don’t accept animals. A different account run by a popular Ukrainian creator, “moneykristina,” gives daily updates regarding her situation in the ongoing war.
The people who face the threat of this war are real and deserve empathy. Gen Z Americans may feel they need to latch onto tragedy, but in the process of facing such conflict, they’ve become known for exploiting it rather than just living through it.
Activism is also a defining feature of our generation. And though you may feel there’s nothing to do, staying up to date and being respectful is already one way of taking action.
Another way, for those that are able, is through donations. Care is an organization that provides food, water and hygiene supplies to Ukrainians displaced by armed conflict. Another organization, Sunflowers of Peace, provides backpacks filled with medical supplies to Ukrainian soldiers, volunteers and citizens.
It’s easy to overlook something that may not directly affect you. But the graveness of the situation, though lost on you, is very present for others. Before commenting on breaking news, take a second to imagine the people experiencing it first hand. Sympathy holds meaning even behind a screen.