LAST Friday I, along with a riot of pink-clad women, sambaed, jived and merengued through an hour of Zoom Zumba tunes to raise money. From Ayrshire to Essex via the Western Isles, in our individual digital windows, we sweated our way to a decent haul, with all proceeds going towards a local breast cancer charity. Various social media platforms were employed to squeeze every single drop of spare cash from our unsuspecting friends and followers, as we subjected them to a virtual gallery of melted faces after the event. The gloom of the pandemic was temporarily lifted as around 60 of us came together in cyberspace to do a tiny bit of good. The shared joy was palpable, infectious almost.

But, in an indicator of how the world has gone completely and utterly nuts, it seems this very act constitutes a heinous crime these days. Doing a wee bit of good and then publicly communicating it, has suddenly become very wrong it seems, although I’d dearly love to see any keyboard warrior tell my feisty, middle-aged Zumba women to stop with the so-called ‘virtue signalling’.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with a bit of virtue signalling. In fact we should be encouraging it. I know it’s meant to be pejorative, but I actually think it’s a badge of honour. I mean the biggest practitioners of it are many of the very politicians telling us not to. Their Twitter feeds are jammed full of it, with visits to schools, veterans’ centres, hospitals, and internet cafes for the elderly and unemployed.

In non-Covid times, the handshakes, the fist-bumps, the selfies are not being shared just for our information, rather we’re being told our MPs are out there, getting things done, rubbing shoulders with the masses and that they are using their positions to do some good – that morally they are on the same page as their constituents. If that’s not virtue signalling then I don’t know what is.

But let’s not stop there. What is the constant trumpeting of government – of whatever persuasion – policy, if it isn’t virtue signalling? Baby boxes, Eat Out to Help Out, Free Tuition Fees….the list of policies that attempt to capture the moral zeitgeist is endless. It’s as old as politics itself, but something has changed and brought added toxicity.

One problem is that collectively we seem to be in a mood whereby we all assume that everyone else’s motivations are bad. So, if someone is supporting a cause, whatever it is, they must be doing it for self-aggrandisement, self-promotion or even just for ‘likes’ and not because they actually want to do something positive or useful. In the Zumba example, maybe some of us are, in fact, exhibitionists who quite enjoyed sharing the sweaty T-shirt underboob shot with all our friends.

We have reached a stage in political discourse that those with different views, opinions and moral standpoints are automatically to be slagged, denigrated and ruthlessly crushed, and a surefire and lazy way of doing that is to cast doubt on the genuineness, not of their cause, but of their motivations. Causes can be debated, argued about and fact-checked whereas it is much easier to throw even a small amount of mud at someone’s motivations, thus undermining them.

The fact that most of us have our own wee social media platform that’s increasingly starved of content doesn’t help. I mean especially in pandemic times when we don’t have the requisite attending a demo video, or falling out of a nightclub pic to entertain the world with, a few virtual signallers might just sneak in – Jeanie selling poppies at the Co-op or Taj taking a box of food to his octogenarian neighbour. It’s all good. Or is it?

Perhaps some of us do not like to be reminded that we could be doing more for our extended families, communities or wider society, even during these cash-strapped times. Maybe the sight of these so-called ‘do-gooders’ makes us question what happened to our own moral compass. And damn the do-gooders for using their social media to advertise their causes. It hurts my head to think that for every Justgiving, GoFundMe or GoGetFunding page there are a bunch of people whose first thought is ‘what, more virtual signalling?’

One thing’s for sure – it’s everywhere. I noticed all over her Twitter page that the queen of Belgium, Queen Mathilde, visited a food bank in Liège this week, a couple of weeks ago the First Minister tweeted her appearance on the STV Children’s Appeal, and of course Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford MBE has been accused of virtual signalling with his school meals campaign.

The truth is that if virtue signalling encourages more virtuous acts, whatever they are, then I say, bring it on. It’s surely a win win.

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