Emotional IntelligencePhilosophy

What is Virtue Signalling and is it Wrong?

5 Mins read
virtue signalling
virtue signalling

The world has been going crazy of late because of the murder of George Floyd, a black man who was killed by a police officer in the states. Riots and demonstrations have gone over the top over the last 5 days. However, his murder isn’t the only thing that has got the world disgusted at the way humans behave.

Virtue signalling has become the norm especially with the wide use of social media platforms such as Twitter and Instagram. On the Blackout Tuesday (June, 4th 2020), people went onto social media to protest the injustice done to black people in the world by having a day in which no one posts any entertainment posts on social media, this led to hashtags such as #blackouttuesday being very widely used with millions upon millions of posts being put up.

Under this hashtag, lost of people posted a black square to indicate support for the black lives matter movement. However, even though this was all done in good intentions, people ended up misusing the hashtag #blacklivesmatter instead of using #blackouttuesday to the point that you wouldn’t find any relevant topic if you wanted to search for something under that hashtag.

This ended up resulting in a spirited debate over what virtue signalling is.

What is virtue signalling

Virtue signalling is basically the act of showing the world that you stand for something (political, cultural or moral views) by just expressing those views through disgust or favor rather than actual action so that you can be seen as morally superior. This is normally done through social media so as to gain acknowledgement of one’s own righteousness and to rebuke those who don’t share the same views.

Virtue signalling may in this case be seen as an ambiguous term, this is due to the fact that most of us may fall under the category of people who do virtue signalling a lot. As a matter of fact, rebuking people who are virtue signalling is virtue signalling in its own sense.


Any form of display of virtue in a public way can be considered as virtue signalling. Wearing shirts with political distaste written on them can be considered as virtue signalling. A politician shunning other politicians for their incompetence and lack of accountability can also be considered as virtue signalling.

Does that mean that everyone who is airing their views is virtue signalling?

No, it doesn’t work that way. As far as it goes, virtue signalling can be considered to be present only if no actual feasible progressive action is being taken in accordance to the stated views. Moreover, arguing on a certain moral compass with the intent of winning an argument rather than airing out the views is a clear sign of virtue signalling.

Simply to say that an expression of genuine intent or a show of genuine action is what separates a good moral stand point from virtue signalling. a certain level of authenticity has to be seen so that virtue signalling can be ruled out.

This is why people were enraged when individuals who hadn’t posted on social media for ages, swamped up to post the black box on Instagram during the #blackouttuesday. People who have never shown any form of concern or dismay to the injustice done to the black community piled on the hashtag without adding any value to solving the problem at hand.

Doing this was a clear lack of authenticity, it came to a point where people realized they were posting not because of a protest but because they don’t want to be seen as part of the problem.

They pile on on the moral compass of others so as to be seen as part of the morally superior group without a clear sign of genuineness or authenticity in their stand point.

To quote Jordan Peterson, a famous psychologist,

“You shouldn’t publicly display your own virtues until you have straightened up your damn life. This is one of the reasons why I don’t like protests.”

Jordan Peterson

Jordan Peterson has mentioned countless times on how humans are so drawn to the idea of unearned moral superiority. Check out the video below for more on the concept of unearned moral superiority.

Examples of virtue signalling

  1. Posting social views on social media without an actual course of actions taking place behind the scenes is considered as a sign of virtue signalling. At least, a form of genuineness has to be seen when publicly airing out your views.
  2. Arguing about a given moral concept for the sake of shunning something rather than fixing it is a form of virtue signalling.
  3. Any moral view based on trying to make one look more righteous than others is basically virtue signalling. This is because it is aimed at promoting one’s own self-righteousness rather than trying to solve an actual problem at hand.
  4. Showing support for a given ideal just because it is fashionable at a given point in time. This is because the support is present because it is fashionable rather than one actually being committed to the cause.
  5. Any attempt to support an idea just so that you can keep your brand name intact is virtue signalling. This is seen mostly in companies that try to show how environmentally friendly they are without actually doing anything to support or follow through with that cause.
  6. Political correctness. I have had my own dismay at the concept of political correctness. This is because the whole ideal is based on saying things that are considered politically right (correct) and shunning everything that isn’t considered politically right(incorrect), therefore its focused on putting down everything that isn’t seen as correct rather than actually addressing issues with a logical and tactical debate.
  7. Adhering to accepted opinions without challenging the ideals and views is virtue signalling since one isn’t truly in support of the ideal but is rather trying to fit in by showing the support.

The list is endless but I’m sure by now you see the pattern.

So is it wrong to be part of the virtue signalling community?

Is virtue signalling wrong

Virtue signalling in its basis shows why a certain stance is virtuous, and therefore in its own sense can’t be immoral, it may be frowned upon but because the very intent of virtue signalling is to show why certain values should be upheld, we can’t really say it is wrong.

The merits of showing support for a particular moral cause, whether genuine or not, are considerable enough to make us forget the demerits of virtue signalling.

Merits of virtue signallingDemerits of virtue signalling
1. Creates social awareness of a given problem.
2. Plays a role in creating momentum that helps in driving forward a given cause.
3. The fake it till you make it idea can turn the disingenuous of all acts into something authentic and genuine just by mere participation.
4. A show of support whether genuine or not goes a long way in helping create actual change.
5. The very act of people frowning upon those who are virtue signalling may in turn make them perform genuine actions to rectify their pretense.
1. Demoralizes the cause being supported.
2. Throws into question the authenticity of a given cause and the people who support it.
3. Results in less actual action being taken to solve a particular problem.
Merits and demerits of virtue signalling

As much as we would all love to get rid of virtue signalling, we have to realize that it is very hard for humans to avoid having a need for moral superiority. Very many movements are being started left and right, on top of which political correctness is very present everywhere these days.

This results in people who have no idea of what most movements stand for being torn in between supporting them and airing their own views. This is because even though an idea may not be wrong, it may however not be socially or politically correct. Therefore, this sense of correctness and a little bit of ignorance here and there, contributes to virtue signalling that may never end.

However, just because you can’t change people’s way of thinking doesn’t mean you can’t change yours. If you are going to publicly air your views and moral standpoints then you owe it to the society and the people you are supporting to show a form of authenticity and genuineness in your actions.

57 posts

About author
I'm a psychology enthusiast and a fried chicken lover. I write bite sized articles unpacking the complexities of the human mind. The mission is to advocate for what's more important in life - the pursuit of the truth and the highest good one can do with that truth - for themselves, the people around them and the society as a whole.
Related posts

What is meant by "Know Thyself" in Psychology

12 Mins read

“If You Love Something/Someone, Set it Free?”

6 Mins read

the meaning of "Ignorance is bliss" - True or False

8 Mins read