Famous People Victims of the Cancel Culture
Cancel Culture: A Variety of Perspectives

What is Virtue Signaling and Why Should You Care About It?

Understanding Political Correctness, Group Think, and the Cancel Culture

Few terms have been more confusing to me than “virtue signaling.” First, is it spelled with two “ls” or one? It seems the Brits use two l’s and the U.S. one. Nevertheless, the meaning of the word is what is most important and there is the rub.


I did some research and found a variety of definitions and characterizations. Here are some of those and, I believe, you will see why there is confusion (at least for me).

  • The action or practice of publicly expressing opinions or sentiments intended to demonstrate one’s good character or the moral correctness of one’s position on a particular issue.
  • An attempt to show other people that you are a good person, for example by expressing opinions that will be acceptable to them, especially on social media.
  • A slur meant to imply moral grandstanding that might not be all bad.
  • A pejorative statement that is often yielded as a sneering insult to dismiss the statements by others as grandstanding.
  • Personal attacks that dismiss an argument based on the character of the presenter, not the argument itself.

An example of virtue signaling in action is if a person proclaims on social media that they strongly support a certain cause, just because they want to show others how caring they are. They assume the moral high road regardless of the position they hold. They may think they better than others because of their “good moral character.”

If you choose to point out that someone is virtue signaling, you should first make sure they are virtue signaling, and then make sure to point this issue out in a way that fully and properly explains why it is problematic, potentially while avoiding the term virtue signaling itself.

The Cousins of Virtue Signaling Virtue signaling

Virtue signaling sounds to me like a form of the cancel culture. You are trying to stifle someone else because of the positions they hold. It does not even matter if those opinions are “right” or “wrong.” It is the person you seek to cancel from society usually on social media.

Virtue signaling also smacks of political correctness in that holding a position promotes a point of view deemed more worthy than others. In this regard, Democrats on the left and Republicans on the right have used it to signal their moral superiority.

Virtue signaling is a product of group think and if you do not adopt their position, then you, too, could be canceled. Beware that the virtue signaler accepts no other position than their own.

Civic Discourse

One problem with political discourse today is it tends to rely on slogans to make a point rather than argumentation. Indeed, arguments are often nothing more than rationalizations for one person’s, or group’s position. The term virtue signaling just muddies the waters in that regard.

Differences of opinion on virtue-signaling positions often result in heated exchanges that threaten civility in our society. We all have to learn to get along with each other, value individual thought, and promote human kindness to advance the cause of free speech. We need to learn how to disagree with each other without being disagreeable. Virtue signaling does nothing to reach that goal.

Posted by Dr. Steven Mintz, The Ethics Sage, on May 18, 2021. You can sign up for his newsletter and learn more about his activities at: https://www.stevenmintzethics.com/. Follow him on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/StevenMintzEthics and on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/ethicssage.