July 13, 2024

Ukrainian officials lashed out at Elon Musk on Monday, with one suggesting that he was making a “direct investment in war, genocide, destruction of the free world, escalation and the right to impunity.”

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The reason for all the consternation? Musk posted a meme. No, I’m not kidding.

In response, Ukranian Ambassador Mariana Betsa asked Musk if he has any empathy, noting the plight of his countrymen in facing Russian aggression. 

Elon, don’t you have empathy? Ukrainians are killed daily by Russia. We are fighting for our lives, for our families, for our country, for our freedom #StandWithUkraine

Mykhailo Podolyak, who is an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, was a little less diplomatic. The mention of showing “irony” toward his country is an obvious nod to Musk’s post.

Once again, Ukrainian officials have left me in the position of supporting their right to self-defense while believing they are undermining their own cause. The online component of the war is extremely overrated. Russia is not going to win based on whether Musk posts a meme or not. Russia is also not going to win based on nebulous claims of “disinformation” online. 

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The outcome of the war will be decided on the ground, and there isn’t a country on earth that is judging its aid commitments to Ukraine based on how choice the memes are. When something is irrelevant, treat it as irrelevant, lest you make matters worse.

The point is that lashing out at Musk is itself pointless. It’s self-defeating in that it only causes further division, fair or not, over an issue that is already growing ever more contentious. This is not the time to lean into Alexander Vindman’s hysterical strategy for defending Ukraine’s honor online. All that is going to do is harden dissension, not disarm it, and you are certainly not going to successfully shame Musk or anyone else over the matter. 

Memes are memes. Musk is free to post them, and it’s not the place of a foreign government that is currently soaking up hundreds of billions of dollars in aid to lash out against basic free speech. Ukraine has a right to defend itself, but it shouldn’t make that fight harder by choosing to be far too online. 

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