Iran escalation sparks dark humor, anxiety on social media

BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) As tensions continue to ramp up over concerns about Iran, the internet has been filled with memes about the possibility and fear of World War III. Our Ike Bendavid explores who's making these jokes and why?

If you've spent any time on social media in the last few years, then you've seen your share of memes.

"I love memes, I think they are hilarious," said Alexa Herrera-Condry of Middlebury.

"I would say a silly internet picture with some sort of caption," said David Keck from Texas.

There are viral jokes and cartoons about almost every topic. But since the killing of a top Iranian general last week, the topic of World War III has become a social media trend with jokes about war with Iran or a new draft.

"This is a situation that people are coming together on whether they are terrified or angry," said Elaine Young, a digital marketing professor at Champlain College. She says the pictures and videos are about reaction no matter what the emotion is. Memes that are being shared on platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Tik Tok, which according to Young, is used mostly by 16 to 24 year-olds. "It really is about individuals who are going to try to look for the dark humor in something regardless of age."

But not everybody thinks it's a laughing matter. "I think people are generally afraid of what's happening and they are using images and words as satire in a way," said Jordi Loaeza of New York.

"If anything, the World War III memes are rooted out of the complete absurdity of what's going on," said Julie Figuelars of California

"Stuff like that is shaky -- not too much to joke about with that," said James Basile of New York.

According to Young, the users of Twitter and Tik Tok skews young,
which means the people laughing about the idea of a new draft are the ones that would be affected if that unlikely scenario did come to pass.

"I can see why adolescents and teenagers can see why they are funny and humorous, but I think they can also be read as being very indifferent and insensitive," said Jeremiah Dickerson, a child psychiatrist at the University of Vermont. He says those who are talking about World War III on the internet might not see the consequences of the joke they think they are making. "Adolescents are prone to using humor and maybe more prone to going into that dark humor to deal with the anxiety that may be coming up with things."

Dickerson says this is a good time to talk with kids of all ages about social media use and the impact of things they post. "At the same time acknowledging this can be driving a lot of anxiety in kids and how do we address that," he said.

Young says it isn't clear how long this particular social media trend will last and it's only a matter of time until the next news cycle starts a new set of memes. "Your going to see those memes and those stories and those tweets and Tik Tok videos ebb and flow based on what the current situation is," she said.