When Does Your Two Cents Matter?


Unless you’ve been holed up in the Appalachian mountains for the last month or so, it’s likely that you’ve heard about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. If you’ve heard about it, you’re appropriately horrified by Russia’s actions and the suffering of those affected in Ukraine.

And, apparently, if you’re under the age of 40 and have a Twitter account, you’ve immediately logged on to add the Ukrainian flag to your profile and started a thread linking places where your followers can donate to the Ukrainian army.

Gen Z seems to consider themselves a generation of revolutionaries. This could be influenced by the heyday of the YA genre or the ability of social media to give everyone the impression of having a podium and a personal army. Everyone’s account is a possible crowdfunding campaign, and everyone, at any time, has a responsibility to be raising money for a cause. Any cause, as long as it has a link, can be pasted into an Instagram bio. 

Erasing, incidentally, the donation links to last week’s cause.

Who is this for, though? No one who is looking at your Instagram is going to think Russia was right to invade Ukraine. If, somehow, someone does happen to side with Putin, there is nothing that the flag emojis and the link on your profile can do about it. Everyone’s aware of the conflict, and everyone is firm in their beliefs.

These actions can be interpreted as a form of virtue-signaling — performative actions that only serve to show your peers that you are allied with a moral cause. We’ve seen the same sort of thing happen with the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020, especially with the much-maligned “Black Square Day.” As completely unhelpful as posting a random black square on Instagram was, at least that was a largely-domestic social and political movement where your peers were much more likely to be personally involved and thus actively seek signs of your support.

Not all tragedies are the same, and the problem lies in the American youth treating an international war as an American political movement. The level of personal involvement just isn’t the same — and it’s a problem when we only know to do one thing in response. It may hurt to hear this, but a Twitter handle is no panacea.

On the other hand, a kinder perspective suggests that this doesn’t necessarily come from a desire to demonstrate morality through political opinions. Rather, it’s a knee-jerk reaction born out of intense anxiety and helplessness. We’re scared, we’re worried, we see something terrible on the horizon and can’t stand to not be able to do something. We feel useless. Many Americans might not have a personal stake in the conflict, and, in many ways, this distance in itself seems to inspire many of the instinctive actions people have taken.

It’s wrong to treat what’s happening in Ukraine the same as we treated the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020. The problem is that many of us don’t know what else we can do; especially when, in reality, it isn’t all that much.

The reality is that people are altruistic at heart. They do want to help, and when we can’t see an immediate solution, we start reaching for whatever tools we have at our disposal. The way a majority of the young population seems to have unthinkingly responded to the invasion demonstrates what most of us think we have to offer — our social media and bank accounts.

By all means, continue donating to humanitarian organizations like the Red Cross and UNICEF, but don’t try to support the Ukrainian Army. You cannot Venmo, tweet and mutual aid fund your way out of a war. It’s okay to be powerless as young Americans. It’s okay to be scared. It’s something we have to accept.