In a previous post I mentioned something called ‘virtue signalling’. This is when people publicly express an opinion intended to demonstrate their moral correctness on any given issue. I now realise, perhaps a little belatedly, that virtue signalling is without doubt the dominant factor of social media platforms like Facebook. As I mentioned in my post, ‘Giving the NHS the Clap’, it is easy to do and leaves the individual feeling good about themselves. Virtue signalling requires little thought, no self-discipline, and can mask a serious deficit of knowledge in the subject concerned.
It looks good therefore it must be good!
Virtue signalling is also why genuine debate cannot thrive in mediums like Facebook. Those who practice it assume that everyone of a like mind will make the same signals as themselves. It has become a pattern of behaviour. All good people signal their good moral stance on an issue. Indeed, early examples of virtue signalling were those in which an individual would claim to ‘stand with…’ whoever or whatever was in the news. I always found this a strange concept, one bordering on delusion. You make a post by sitting in front of your device and watching it appear in a virtual space. No actual standing is required. The poster may also be geographically removed from either the incident or the people that they are ‘standing with’ in the real world. Of course, what they mean is that they are expressing moral support for something or someone, but they are doing it in a very superficial way. Saying and doing are two very different things. In the real world we are judged by our actions, in the virtual world we are judged by our virtue signalling.
The problem with virtue signalling is that it becomes an expected behaviour, a means of judging who is on side and who is not. When someone makes a response that is not in line with that behaviour then they frequently provoke accusative rejoinders. Virtue signalling appears to inspire a certain degree of intolerance. This is not surprising as social media debating has been reduced to a very simple dichotomy; either you are with us or you are against us. If you fail to make the right signal, then you are presumed to be against them, and you will suffer accordingly.
Imagine that the colour green is in vogue. Everybody loves the colour green. Virtue signallers post their love for the colour green and expect everyone else to do the same. However, green is not an absolute colour. It has a large number of shades and I might find some of those shades less agreeable than others. Perhaps I already know a lot about the full spectrum of green, more than the average person does. I might post my appreciation for the colour green but limit it to the shades I like. That is not virtue signalling. Such a post is intimating that green is not perfectly right just as it is but that it might contain a degree of imperfection or a questionable quality. Such a post suggests that the person making it is not really a supporter of the colour green because they are clearly questioning an aspect about it. They are daring to debate and not just accepting the rightness of the colour green that everyone else is.
It is almost like committing heresy!
People who understand how real debate works know that it is only by exploring any given issue to its full extent that a genuine truth can be revealed. In that act of exploration some less attractive aspects of the topic might be revealed, but then that will lead to a better understanding of the subject. The problem for the virtue signaller, however, is that this makes things complicated. It means that you have to take the time to understand the subject and accept that it might not be as clear and concise as you might wish. Very few topics are clear and concise, most are messy and convoluted and require us to accept uncomfortable truths. Virtue signalling is, at best, a mask behind which people can hide their shallow understanding, at worst, a lazy way of looking morally superior.