Please do not use Russia’s attack on Ukraine to thirst for more likes
On TikTok, a video of a Russian soldier parachuting into Ukraine has gone viral. In a matter of hours, it racked up more than 20 million views. Commenters on the platform were shocked at the audacity of someone to broadcast the attack, but marveled at the fact that they could find such content on the platform. “TikTok got better coverage than any news station at this point,” one person commented.
Just one problem: The video is real, but the context around it is entirely fabricated. It was originally posted in 2015 and has nothing to do with Russia’s current invasion of Ukraine, which began in earnest early Thursday.
It is just one of dozens of videos that are being shared on the platform and getting inserted into the “For You” page of millions of TikTok viewers, where there’s no mechanism for fact-checking or correcting misinformation. According to a report from NBC News, a number of livestreams purporting to provide live coverage of Russia’s assault on Ukraine are really just loops of videos from the United Kingdom or elsewhere in the world with sounds of gunshots and screams dubbed over them.
In an era where wars are tracked live and in real-time, this phenomenon of faux coverage is not new. During the bombing of Syria carried out by the United States in 2018, footage of the supposed bombings made the rounds on Twitter, only for it to be discovered that the video in question was actually from a bombing in Ukraine three years earlier.
There are versions of this opportunistic shitposting that may seem harmless. But it’s increasingly upsetting as the situation grows more dire and deadly for Ukrainians. A tweets showing President Biden walking up to a lectern to announce the first pick of the World War III draft may get a laugh when it’s made in the lead-up to a conflict by breaking the tension caused by uncertainty. But this is real. Ukrainians are fleeing their homes and may never get to return. People are dying. The jokes don’t play the same — and they also often center Americans in a conflict that, at present, doesn’t endanger them the way it is endangering others.
Then there are people like the Twitch streamer who, as reported by the Daily Dot, decided to set his location on Tinder to Ukraine in an attempt to match with “hotties that need a green card” — an act that truly takes the cake for the type of revolting shitposting that people are capable of engaging in during a full-blown global crisis.
The goals of these posts are always the same, though they may be measured differently. The TikTok livestreams are an attempt to extract donations from sympathetic viewers. The repurposed footage posted to make it appear like it’s new is an attempt to generate views and followers. The jokes and memes seek likes, retweets, and a brief moment of virality. In each case, the goal is engagement. It’s gross at best, and unethical and shameless at worst.
Gallows humor is a trademark of our online discourse, as is the sense of nihilism that leads to people not really caring about how they get attention, as long as they get it. But now is not the time. There are people suffering on the other end of the punchline; there is money and attention being diverted from people who actually need it.
If you are not in Ukraine or a Ukrainian or affected directly by the conflict, you absolutely do not need to post through this. You don’t have to share the viral video of dubious origins, or crack the joke about nuclear war, or make an entirely too earnest post about how you wish superheroes were real so they could intervene. You don’t need to earnestly invoke Wordle. Keep it to yourself.