Teens are making viral mass-shooting memes on TikTok

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Photo courtesy of Chesnot/Getty Images

Valeria Olivares, Editor-in-Chief

Teenagers and young adults have been posting memes about school shootings on TikTok that have quickly gone viral. 

TikTok is currently the number one entertainment app in Apple’s App Store and, according to an article by Kaya Yurieff for CNN, it has “been downloaded about 80 million times in the United States, and nearly 800 million times worldwide, according to data from mobile research firm Sensor Tower. Those figures exclude Android users in China.” 

Joshua Mannila, 15, has racked up more than 300,000 likes for a video captioned “2019 back-to-school shopping in the United States,” in which he looks up bulletproof backpacks and vests. La Roux’s hit song, “Bulletproof,” plays throughout the video.

His meme has been played more than one million times. 

“I didn’t think it would blow up,” Mannila said. “I made that video just like, ‘Oh, it’s back to school season, let’s go get some bulletproof backpacks because our schools are turning into a shooting range.’” 

After a user posted the meme on Twitter, another replied, “I mean I guess it’s better than being swallowed by a nonstop sense of dread and impending doom when you’re 14 years old.”

Paul Carrola, an associate professor for UTEP’s Department of Psychology, has found that trauma is a constant theme that has surrounded his research. 

“Using humor when talking about something very, very tragic … is a coping strategy,” Carrola said. 

He added that, although it is not the best coping strategy out there, dark humor can be helpful for people who are constantly exposed to death and other graphic things in order for them to be able to function, like first responders. 

“I wasn’t going into it trying to make fun of school shootings,” Mannila said. “I was just trying to state the fact that they are making bulletproof backpacks and people are taking these precautions because you could die at school, which is kind of a weird thing to say, but it’s the truth.”  

TikTok users can easily find more memes like Mannila’s by scrolling through the app or by searching for the #darkhumor hashtag, which has almost 130 million total views. 

Carrola explained that the consequence of relying on dark humor is that it can quickly become the person’s response to anything that is stressful. 

“Becoming desensitized is a defense mechanism; it’s a way to shut it off so I can function,” Carrola said. “The problem with that, long term, is that you can’t relate to people when you become desensitized or it’s more difficult to relate to people once you desensitize yourself, because you don’t want to experience feelings.” 

Only this year, there have already been 309 mass shootings in the U.S. in which gunmen killed 340 and wounded 1,277, according to Vox’s collection of data from the Gun Violence Archive. Since late 2012, there have been more than 2,200 mass shootings in the country. 

“I’m just kind of used to it now,” Mannila said about mass shootings in the U.S., adding that he believes memes like his make light of a situation that is no longer a “what if,” but a “when it happens.” 

When it comes to the best way to cope with the tragedies that occur throughout the world, Carrola recommends “talking to people and processing your feelings” and for teenagers to find an adult in whom they can confide.  

“If someone is feeling like they’re stuck and they’re having problems dealing with it, there is no shame in going to counseling,” Carrola added. “It’s a very normal, healthy thing to do. It doesn’t mean that there’s something wrong with you.”