At the first battle of Bull Run, spectators swarmed to the battlefield to picnic, expecting an easy victory for the Union army. However, spectators soon found themselves running for cover as bullets and cannon fire filled the air. The spectacle of war had reached the masses.
In a similar sense, the Russian invasion of Ukraine mirrors this event. Although we aren’t flocking to the battlefield, many in America are following the war through social media. We too find ourselves miscalculating the brutality of war. Those making crude jokes both before and as the war started have now seen a real glimpse of the carnage through social media but it seems our mental image of war has not prepared us for the reality of warfare in 2022.
As I scroll through my TikTok feed, I see both sides of the conflict which has captivated the world. There is an eerie juxtaposition as I scroll through my “for you page.” I see a video of an apartment with an unexploded missile lodged in the floor. It’s clear they were the lucky ones. The next video shows Russian soldiers dancing in a trench, none much older than I am. Later I see a child singing in a bomb shelter, next a wife and child departing for Poland as the father stays behind to fight.
We criticize social media for the political schism it has caused in our society and for the toxicity that it can create. But it also shows people all around the world a glimpse at events as they happen. I have found the majority of my immediate information on the crisis from Twitter, as it has offered the quickest possible access to information as it happens. Social media is proving to be an important supplement to understanding modern warfare.
Just as easily as we can abuse social media in times of war, it can also be used to gain information quicker than ever before.
Despite the craze of war, there are some important virtues to keep in mind. As we see attacks and warfare take place in real-time we must see the person behind every image. Every explosion we see is more than just a loud boom or fireball, it is the destruction of communities and the immense loss of life. Every firefight is a perilous moment for those involved; one mistake could be their last. Every dead Russian soldier is just a young conscript who didn’t know what they were truly getting into.
On the other hand, in these days of quickly attaining knowledge and instant gratification, we must remain vigilant for what media we are consuming. Many have used the war in Ukraine for clout, putting out false and unrelated videos marketed as coming from the frontlines. Oftentimes if something feels too hysterical or good to be true it is, remember to verify.
We don’t yet know where this war will go, and we don’t know when it will end or if it will involve more nations, but what we must do is stay vigilant, informed and human.