Virtue-signaling, as defined by the man who coined the term, is “the way in which many people say or write things to indicate that they are virtuous.” He continues by stating that “one of the crucial aspects of virtue signaling is that it does not require actually doing anything virtuous.” This perfectly describes the actions of so many social media users, who in an attempt to display their virtue publicly, end up not actually doing anything to help solve the problem to which they bring attention.
One of the first widespread examples of virtue-signaling on social media was none other than the 2014 ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Initially, the Ice Bucket Challenge was introduced to raise money and awareness for people suffering from ALS – a noble goal to be certain. A person would accept the challenge, state the reason for doing it, film themselves pouring an ice bucket on their head, and then challenge other people to do the same. This degraded until it was little more than videos of people pouring ice water on their heads with little to no context. Nevertheless, the Ice Bucket Challenge went viral online and so for the organizers, it was a great success.
What is far more interesting, however, is what we learned about people during the process of this challenge. Namely, that people are eager to show their support for any and every cause perceived as “moral,” so long as the personal cost is not great – or better yet, non-existent. This brings us to perhaps the single greatest example of virtue-signaling: profile picture filters.
Anyone who uses social media, particularly Facebook, has certainly come across these filters which vary from a rainbow in support of LGBTQ persons to a flag of *insert “x” terror-stricken country here* which is usually accompanied with the hashtag #prayfor__”x”__. The beauty of this action is precisely the fact that you literally have to do nothing. No personal sacrifice, no financial expense, no volunteer hours, just a simple click of a button to prove to your friends and family just how much you care about whichever harmed/oppressed group of the day. After all, sending “positive vibes” is free, right? But I digress.
The horror of virtue-signaling is that people can attain the honor and satisfaction associated with moral virtue without helping anyone or doing anything. Thus, the needy go unserved and the egos of virtue-signallers are inflated. It truly is a lose-lose situation for society. Unfortunately for us, virtue-signaling is far more plentiful than actual virtue itself. You do not need to look deep into social media until you find a virtue signaler, whatever the cause may be: religion, politics, social issues, terrorism etc. Thus, with good reason, I bestow upon social media the honorific title of “Ultimate Virtue-Signalling Tool.”
I guarantee you that the world would be a much better place if even a fraction of the virtue-signallers committed to living out what they post to their social media accounts. After all, some of the greatest examples of virtue in history were people who acted upon their convictions: Mother Teresa, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, William Wilberforce, etc. This is because, borrowing from the Book of James, virtue without works is dead.