How Americans and Iranians are using memes and hashtags to cope with conflict

Memes are the new way to cope with uncertainty in the world.

(CNN)As the US and Iranian governments strode towards what seemed like inevitable conflict over the past week, ordinary Iranians and Americans turned to memes to cope with the uncertainty.

That's right, memes, those images you see on social media that are created, shared, remixed and shared again.
On Twitter, messages like "World War Three is happening an i'm here drinking water and playing Minecraft & Fallout 4. Its a good way to go out," "#WW3 is here... Who wants to chill with me and watch the bombs go off?" and "Me running of a cliff before I get drafted. #iran #WW3 #WWIIII" have accompanied thousands of tweets using variations of the hashtag #ww3.
    On Instagram, #ww3 has collected nearly 500,000 mentions, and on Reddit, the forum r/ww3memes exploded from a couple hundred subscribers to more than 40,000 in a week.
      A cursory glance at any of the content posted there is sure to leave the impression of a disingenuous and foolhardy person. But a deeper look reveals a far more complex portrait of a people using humor to mask their deep sense of dread.
      One person familiar with the feeling is Kate Hewitt, a federal contractor and adviser at Girl Security, a nonprofit organization that educates girls in middle and high school on national security. She has authored several articles on Iran and researched the country's nuclear and ballistic missile programs.
      "People are certainly afraid and sometimes pictures, GIFs, memes and tweets can express what you either don't know how to or don't want to fully articulate," she told CNN.
        "It's certainly easier for some people to see a meme that takes a serious issue, like what's happening with rising US-Iranian tensions, and makes you laugh either because it is absurd or you're afraid or you don't fully understand the issue," Hewitt said.

        The threat of "WWIII" has loomed large on the internet for years

        North Korea's attempted missile launch had failed. While the world searched for answers on April 16, 2017, Micah Price of South Africa got to work creating r/ww3memes on Reddit to capture the fear people were experiencing.
        The subreddit languished for more than two years until a week ago. The forum's growth has been extraordinary, Price said.
        "It was a huge shock. I actually completely forgot about the subreddit until it started growing last week," Price told CNN. "I think memes just happen whenever there's a big cultural event, regardless of the nature of it. A few years ago, a movement seemed to start where the darker the joke was, the more popular the meme was and I guess these new ww3 memes are just an extension of that."
        The memes from almost every corner of the internet have revolved around fear over getting drafted, the historical significance of another world war and just how unprepared ordinary Americans are to deal with combat.
        Jamie Withorne is a research assistant with the Middlebury Institute in Washington, DC. She has been paying close attention to the use of memes around the US-Iran tensions. Withorne, who recently authored "The Memeification of International Security," believes the language used in many of the memes shows the common public lacks expert knowledge when it comes to foreign affairs.