Virtue Signalling During a Tragedy — A Beginner’s Guide

So there’s been a tragedy.

A terrorist attack or a natural disaster. A shooting maybe.

The news is still breaking. Facts are muddy, the death toll is unclear and the causes not known.

But there’s time for all that later. The news media will present the facts if and when you need them. For now (and for the next week) this is your time.

This is about you.

You’re a good person. You’re progressive. You’ve got important and very correct opinions.

Now is the time to show it.

Here’s how.

Thoughts and prayers (send them or don’t)

A copper-bottomed way of inserting yourself immediately into the unfolding narrative is to either send thoughts and prayers to those affected, or — for the ambitious virtue signaller — condemn the sending of thoughts and prayers to simultaneously flash your aethiest credentials and ADDRESS THE REAL ISSUES.

Cover your back

As the facts emerge, be sure to qualify anything you say with ‘If…’

The early stages of any tragedy are crucial if you’re going to effectively communicate your valour. But it’s tricky. Nobody knows the full scope of what is happening. It’s tough to assert your goodness in case you misjudge the tone.

A general sweeping statement is fine for now. A shot across the bows of the unenlightened, the bigoted and the vocally different of opinion.

“If you’re going to use Orlando/Brussels/Paris/Leytonstone to argue about gun rights/the EU/Brexit/immigration/Islam you’re the real problem here.”

It’s a safe strategy for now and will enhance your personal brand. Let people know you already disapprove of the emerging narrative. You’re above that.

Subtweet for extra impact.

Add a filter to your Facebook profile pic

Doing this sends a clear message to the perpetrators of this atrocity that you will not tolerate their actions without making a temporary cosmetic change to your social media presence. It also helps the victims’ families to understand that you stand with them in solidarity.

If Facebook doesn’t offer a filter for this specific tragedy, you have to make a big deal out of it.

Sometimes, bad stuff happens to brown people in obscure countries like D.R. Congo or Myanmar and Facebook may not yet have got around to making a filter for their flag.

If you don’t have time to formulate a cohesive stance on why you find this outrageous, don’t worry. Just mention white privilege.

Shame others

People deal with grief and shock differently. That’s unacceptable.

Some struggle to process the nuances of what’s happening, others resort to humour to deal with the horror. In some cases, people may interpret the events differently to you and your social group.

So it’s really important to identify these people and shame them publicly.

Is someone linking a terrorist attack by a Muslim to the religion of Islam?

Bigots. Don’t they know that this actually has nothing to do with Islam?

Shame them.

Is someone without an honours degree weighing in with unsophisticated language to make their point?

Shame them.

Did someone re-tweet a Breitbart article?

Shame. Them.


It’s one of the most problematic issues with social media, but some people will express opinions that are offensively different to yours. They may make insensitive jokes, or express an opinion that differs to what you’ve read on The Huffington Post.

Fortunately, these people often have jobs and families to support. If they’re stupid enough to make their employment details public, it’s your duty to grass on them to their employer.

But don’t just snitch on them, make sure you tell everyone in your social network that you’ve done this.

Find a niche tragedy of your own

A great way to show the world how virtuous you are is to draw attention to a less popular tragedy and ask nobody in particular why we’re all getting so upset about the victims in country A, when people in country B face this sort of horror every day.

It’s easier if some Europeans or Americans get killed. That way, all you need to do is find a recent example (any time in the last 6 months is fine) of some non-European or American people being victimised.

Nigerians get it pretty rough from Boko Haram, so always keep tabs on what they’re doing. And there’s loads of classic human rights violations going on in Iraq, Yemen and Central African Republic right now. Easy pickings for the savvy virtue signaller.

Police social media

Back to the unfolding events.

Some people are dead and you’re never going to change that, so don’t worry too much about the victims here. You’ve sent thoughts and prayers/not sent thoughts or prayers. You’re golden.

Now is the time for outrage. And nothing makes better outrage than high profile individuals with different opinions to you and your friends.

If you don’t have time to fully police your social network, go where the shaming is easy. Keep tabs on Trump, Farage, Eamon Holmes, Katie Hopkins — anyone with a history of saying stuff you really disagree with.

Remember to call their views ‘vile.’

Ignore facts

Facts don’t really matter when there’s a tragedy. It’s all about feelings.

The stated motivations, identity, religion or background of any person involved in a tragedy don’t really matter.

How do you FEEL?

Here’s a guy letting us know his feelings about about lots of gay people being murdered by a guy who pledged allegiance to ISIS.

Condemn the mainstream media

There’s always a villain in a tragedy. Even if it’s a flood or an earthquake.

But usually it’s a specific demographic of people. And it’s not fair to tarnish all of those people with the same brush. Doing that, even if the perpetrator explicitly says ‘hey, I’m doing this in name of religion A’, is bigoted.

So what normally happens is a group of people who may otherwise be associated with the thing that happened will go out of their way to distance themselves from it.

That’s fine and you should acknowledge it. But it’s super, super important to ask why our media hasn’t covered it?

Don’t worry too much if they actually have, it’s the narrative that matters here. Our media is evil and wants us to hate marginalised groups. So don’t post any news stories to Facebook without adding ‘You won’t see the mainstream media writing about this, but…’

Use memes




Leverage the narrative

Remember, this is Not. about. the. victims.

It’s actually about calling out bigots and letting everyone see how progressive you are.

Restore our faith in humanity

Whenever there’s a tragedy or an atrocity, someone somewhere will do something cute. It’s part of the new media news cycle.

An inspirational mom will write an open letter to her daughter, or a photogenic teacher will shut down bigots with the perfect response to something.

So a great way to cap off this virtual signalling cycle is to share the good stuff with your circle of friends and contacts.

Just let people know that you’re still massively outraged by all the bad stuff, but wanted to share this thing to show us that there’s still hope for humanity.

So next time Islamic State blow up some people, or a lone lunatic with no religious affiliation at all goes on a shooting spree, remember to make it about you and your feelings.