Memes about an impending third World War went viral after tensions between the U.S. and Iran rose Friday following the killing of Iran's top military commander, Qassem Soleimani, in Baghdad on Thursday.
The hashtag "WWIII" quickly started trending on Twitter in the U.S. with more than 1.92 million tweets using the hashtag — many of them invoking memes about the potential for another global conflict — since Thursday night. World War III-related videos, largely centered around the possibility of a military draft, also started emerging on TikTok, a video-sharing platform popular among teens.
However, memes and social media have played a role in the relations between the U.S. and Iran for years.
In July 2018, amid rising tensions, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said, "America should know that peace with Iran is the mother of all peace, and war with Iran is the mother of all war," according to The Washington Post.
His comments led to President TrumpDonald TrumpKinzinger says Trump 'winning' because so many Republicans 'have remained silent' Our remote warfare counterterrorism strategy is more risk than reward Far-right rally draws small crowd, large police presence at Capitol MORE tweeting in all caps, "NEVER, EVER THREATEN THE UNITED STATES AGAIN OR YOU WILL SUFFER CONSEQUENCES THE LIKES OF WHICH FEW THROUGHOUT HISTORY HAVE EVER SUFFERED BEFORE."
To Iranian President Rouhani: NEVER, EVER THREATEN THE UNITED STATES AGAIN OR YOU WILL SUFFER CONSEQUENCES THE LIKES OF WHICH FEW THROUGHOUT HISTORY HAVE EVER SUFFERED BEFORE. WE ARE NO LONGER A COUNTRY THAT WILL STAND FOR YOUR DEMENTED WORDS OF VIOLENCE & DEATH. BE CAUTIOUS!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 23, 2018
In response to Trump's tweet, Soleimani posted a picture on his since-suspended Instagram account of an edited movie poster of the 2013 film "Olympus Has Fallen" with Soleimani standing in front of an exploding White House.
New CJL Report: IRGC Qods Force Commander Qassem Soleimani, Designated By U.S. Treasury Dept., Is Active On Instagram; Posts Include Image Of White House Exploding https://t.co/9jP83VDsQ5 pic.twitter.com/ui8WA2is6z— Steve Stalinsky (@SteveStalinsky) August 17, 2018
Later in that year, after pulling out of the Obama-era nuclear deal with Iran, Trump — drawing inspiration from the hit HBO series "Game of Thrones" — tweeted a photo of himself with the phrase "Sanctions are coming," a play on the show's tagline "Winter is coming."
A day later, Soleimani responded with his own "Game of Thrones"-inspired Instagram post: his silhouette with the phrase "I will stand against you" in the show's signature font.
Commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (#IRGC) #Quds Force Major General Qassem Soleimani responded to #US President Donald Trump’s announcement that ‘sanctions are coming’ with a Game of Thrones-inspired meme of his ownhttps://t.co/336UFrTL8E pic.twitter.com/5uh1qtQPMB— Tasnim News Agency (@Tasnimnews_EN) November 3, 2018
Soleimani's Instagram account, which had as many as 70,000 followers, was suspended in April 2019 after the U.S. formally designated the Quds Force, which Soleimani commanded, a foreign terrorist organization.
The attack on Soleimani raised fears in the U.S. that Iran could tap its militias to target U.S. interests in response to the strike, particularly after Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei vowed “harsh retaliation” over the killing.
Soleimani was a long-feared adversary of the U.S., directing Iran-backed armed groups across the Middle East and beyond. He is suspected of being responsible, through Tehran-linked militias, for hundreds of U.S. casualties in Iraq since the 2003 invasion.
Tal Axelrod contributed