Only a few days of 2020 have passed, yet social media and the internet has been taken over by jokes, memes and fears about the possibility of a third world war, but how did this trend begin? Furthermore, are we approaching it in the right way?

The phrase ‘World War 3’ began trending on platforms such as Twitter after the killing of Iran’s top general Qasem Soleimani on the 31st of December, due to a US airstrike ordered by President Trump. In response to this, Iran’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei stated that "I and the government and the nation of Iran strongly condemn this American crime." This threat has sparked conversation and fear that it could potentially trigger a larger-scale conflict. In response to this Trump stated that ‘“We took action last night to stop a war. We did not take action to start a war.”

Following the unfolding situation, the internet has been bombarded with searches in Iran and World War 3, presumably due to fear and concern. On the other hand, social media and the younger generation have approached the conversation in an entirely different manner. It has been used as inspiration for many memes and jokes about being drafted to the war, and the conflict itself. Although war is not to be taken lightly, the very low possibility of a full-blown World War has given people the reassurance that it is acceptable to joke about the matter. If the likelihood of danger was higher, it is unlikely that this would be deemed as appropriate.

However, the threat and danger of conflict are very real in the Middle East, who at very high risk. Iran, Afghanistan and Syria have been ranked as the most dangerous countries to live in by the Global Peace Index, and in no way find this a joking matter. This raises issues about whether it is right to use the potential deaths of thousands of people as a ground for humour, simply because it is not affecting us directly. Others still defend the right to make jokes, as they claim it is a way of coping.

This controversy has brought to light how increasingly desensitized we have become to the severity of the conflict itself, and to violence in general. Potential reasons could include our overexposure to violence due to video games, films and media (which are becoming increasingly accessible).  The constant cycle of violent news seems to be perpetuating this further, leading to why our first response to news of war is to joke about it. 

But is it truly right to joke about war, while thousands are fearing for their lives?

By Sanjana Iyer