Simon Leviev and the women who accuse him of fraud have become memes online. Experts say it's our way of coping.

A screenshot of a phone contact for Simon Leviev from the documentary.
The Tinder Swindler was released on February 2, 2022.Netflix
  • "The Tinder Swindler" is a Netflix documentary about convicted fraudster Simon Leviev.

  • Leviev and his accusers in the documentary have all become the subjects of memes and mocked online.

  • Experts say these jokes represent a broader culture of using humor to cope with serious events.

When Netflix's "The Tinder Swindler" was released on February 2, 2022, it was an instant hit.

The documentary told the story of three women who said a man named Simon Leviev scammed them out of hundreds of thousands of dollars, which Leviev has denied. It quickly became Netflix's most popular movie of the month, according to the streaming service, which says it has been watched for 110 million hours so far.

The show sparked a wave of social media discussion, but the online conversation quickly devolved into a series of memes, with people across platforms using the story to make jokes and mock Leviev and his accusers.

On TikTok, the tag #tinderswindler has 125 million views, and a trend has emerged of people shaking their heads to a cover of "Crazy" by Gnarls Barkley with a caption that reads, "When my billionaire BF asked me to take out a loan so he could fight his enemies and I did."

On Twitter, the phrases that the women in the documentary say Leviev used to convince them he needed money — such as "my enemies are after me" — have been joked about and used as a popular caption alongside a photo of Leviev on a plane.

Leviev was arrested and convicted in Finland in 2015 on charges of defrauding several women and was sentenced to 15 months in prison in Israel after fleeing the country to avoid charges of theft, forgery, and fraud in 2011 and 2017. He was released after five months. Leviev has denied the claims made in the Netflix documentary and did not immediately respond to Insider's request for comment.

Insider spoke to experts to find out why "The Tinder Swindler" captured the attention — and amusement — of the internet.

Stories about fraud are having a moment in popular culture

James Cohen, assistant professor in media studies at Queens College, which is part of the City University of New York, told Insider that Netflix has created an online "culture" by releasing several documentaries about alleged con artists within the space of two months, including "Inventing Anna," and "The Puppet Master," alongside "The Tinder Swindler."

Erhan Aslan, a lecturer in media linguistics at the University of Reading, told Insider that stories about fraud become so popular because they resonate with "superiority theories of humor," which is when the misfortunes of one person become a "laughing matter" for people who are not experiencing the same thing.

Memes that appear to make light of the way Leviev allegedly defrauded the women in the documentary are comparable to when you laugh at someone falling over even "though the falling could be hurtful for that person," Aslan explained.

Memes can function as a form of escapism

Bradley Wiggins, the department head of media communications at Webster Vienna Private University, told Insider that sometimes, people just "don't want to handle serious topics seriously," and he linked such attitudes specifically to the pandemic.

Since so many lives were affected by COVID-19, Wiggins said that memes have been used as a form of escapism, a "pressure valve, letting off steam before getting back to the seriousness of one's own life."

TikToker Giuliana Ava, who received 700,000 views on a video using the "Crazy" trend, told Insider that she thinks fraudsters make for the perfect meme because they allow people to make light of something serious.

In the instance of Leviev, she said, "You can't help but laugh at his desperation to live a lifestyle he can't afford whilst hating him for ruining innocent people's lives."

Ultimately, no one wants to imagine they could fall for a scam

Many "Tinder Swindler" memes, including videos from the "Crazy" TikTok trend, seem to mock the three women in the documentary.

Beth Walkemayer, who joined the trend by posting a video that has 8 million views, told Insider she made the TikTok to spark discussion about the documentary, but was "surprised" to see people reacting to it with humor rather than by "addressing how serious the situation is." Walkemayer said she was "sad" to see people judging the women for becoming involved with Leviev.

Many comments on Walkemayer's post and similar videos are from women who claim that they would never have become victims of fraud.

"I would have told him he's in my thoughts and prayers," one top comment with 22,000 likes said. Another said, "I won't even loan people $100, let alone 100K."

These responses to the documentary can showcase a "sadism" at seeing the con happen, paired with "an even stronger desire to see justice," Cohen said.

Cohen also suggested that memes that are critical of the women come from people who "believe they'd never be swindled." These individuals joke about the misfortune of the three women and say it could never happen to them as a way to feel more secure even though "deep down, they might know it could just as well be them," Cohen said.

For more stories like this, check out coverage from Insider's Digital Culture team here.

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