virtue signaling

[ vur-choo sig-nl-ing ]


, Sometimes Disparaging.
  1. the sharing of one's point of view on a social or political issue, often on social media, in order to garner praise or acknowledgment of one’s righteousness from others who share that point of view, or to passively rebuke those who do not: Their outraged virtue signaling comes across as contrived.

    The virtue signaling of solidarity with the victims can be a comforting affirmation of community.

    Their outraged virtue signaling comes across as contrived.

Discover More

Word History and Origins

Origin of virtue signaling1

Coined by James Bartholomew, British writer, in 2015


Discover More

More About Virtue Signaling

What does virtue signaling mean?

The term virtue signaling is often used to accuse someone of trying to win praise for showing support for a social cause without actually doing anything meaningful to advance it. This charge is often used against people for being self-righteouslywoke” on social media.

What are some variants of virtue signaling?

(especially British) virtue signalling

What are some other words related to virtue signaling?

cancel culture
call-out culture
social justice warrior

Where does virtue signaling come from?

Virtue signaling was coined in April 2015 by British writer James Bartholomew, who used it in an article for the Spectator criticizing what he viewed as a social media trend of sharing opinions online chiefly meant to convince others of the poster’s own goodness—that is, people were signaling to others that they are a virtuous person.

In the term virtue signaling, signal draws on the sociological concept of signaling, an outward expression or action meant to communicate identity to others. Virtue is associated with fighting for social justice.

An example of virtue-signaling could be a long Facebook post or Twitter thread that self-righteously lectures people on the awfulness of some social phenomenon (e.g., racism or misogyny) or makes a show of praising a cause (e.g., affirmative action or veganism ). You know those viral trends like the Ice Bucket Challenge, where people dumped ice on themselves to raise awareness for the disease ALS? Critics called that virtue signaling, as they felt some people were making a show of caring about a good cause instead of, say, just donating to ALS foundations.

The assumption is that the person virtue signaling shares the post to persuade others that they are modern and forward-thinking, and to align themselves with oppressed groups without bothering to support them in a meaningful, material way offline. As another example, someone who often tweets about the evils of the prison-industrial complex, but puts no time, energy, or money into working to reform it may be said to be virtue signaling.

Virtue signaling notably became a popular accusation—fired by both liberals and conservatives alike—during the 2016 presidential election as partisanship reached a fever pitch on social media. In the late 2010s, virtue signaling increasingly received blowback, though,  some critics argued the judgment discourages empathy and promotes cynicism.

How is virtue signaling used in real life?

Virtue signaling is a charge often leveled at people who appear to want to be seen showing support for a progressive cause—but who do not actually fight the fight for that cause.

The behavior of virtue signaling is most associated with progressive communities. People who are insulted as so-called social justice warriors are commonly accused of virtue signaling.

Virtue signalling can be used as an intransitive verb (e.g., He felt it was easier for the corporation to virtue-signal about values than implement meaningful changes in its workplace).

More examples of virtue signaling:

“Diversity and community are buzzwords these days. Sometimes it seems as if the internet was specifically designed to enable shameless virtue-signalling.”

—Vic Galloway, Gigwise, July 2018

“Expressions of moral outrage are playing a prominent role in contemporary debates about issues like sexual assault, immigration and police brutality. In response, there have been criticisms of expressions of outrage as mere “virtue signaling” — feigned righteousness intended to make the speaker appear superior by condemning others.”

—Jillian Jordan and David Rand, New York Times, March 2019