The news and social media are some of the major ways that people are informed of current events, crises, and the latest social phenomena influencing ideas in society. Currently, the news is reporting on how Twitter, a major social media platform, colluded with federal government agencies to suppress the 1st amendment rights of people who identify with “conservative” values. The American people, according to Forbes magazine, became the victim of one of the largest censorship strategies ever developed by an institution of power in the US. Regardless of your view(s) of how censorship should be done, the autonomy of a human must not be removed from her. Many people value how Twitter gives them an outlet to evoke their 1st amendment right by expressing their views about social or political ideas. However, many people may have experienced trauma after learning that Twitter attempted to alter the way people receive information. All people must have the right to choose what they believe once reviewing all available information. Virtue signaling can cause trauma.
Virtue signaling is a term that was coined by James Bartholomew who writes for The Spectator. The Spectator is an online magazine that partners with the independent press regulator (IPR). James writes that virtue signaling, in an article published in 2015, is a form of expression to suggest that you are a good, virtuous person even though you may participate in unethical behavior in your personal life. James is not suggesting, however, that people should not be good, virtuous humans. People who possess virtuous qualities benefit society by maintaining ethical behavior that promotes people’s mental health and quality of life. The intent of James that he is after is that people, companies, and other professional entities may present misleading messages to the public. The message presented to people may shift the attention away from what companies and/or people intend to do “behind closed doors”. James, therefore, suggests that authenticity may be challenging to find among entities with power. Dishonesty can traumatize people.
People experience trauma often by being gaslit. Gaslighting is a defense mechanism that people may use to gain psychological control over another. That other person can be a sibling, partner, peer, or employee. Psychological control slowly and surely removes the felt experience of autonomy of a human. Autonomy is a basic psychological need for a human that helps a person pursue happiness and contentment. Virtue signalizing can be seen as a form of gaslighting. The National Domestic Violence Hotline suggests that gaslighting can happen in various ways. People can lose hope and trust in people or organizations once they find a form of deception was used on them. Diverting is one technique that may presuppose virtue signaling.
Diverting is when a person changes the focus of a discussion by questioning another person’s credibility.2 James insightfully points out that people can be observed using this form of virtue signaling, i.e., gaslighting, when one person accuses another person of being racist. James suggests by accusing a person of being racist you put yourself in a position as the good and virtuous person. Hence, you are virtue signaling. Executives of Twitter during the deposition period were presented with their own posts on Twitter in 2020 that explicitly referred to people who are more conservative as Fascists. Evidence of virtue signaling is seen clearly here in posts like these. People may not agree with your values and that does not give any entity or people groups the right to create polarity and unsafe spaces to express their 1st amendment rights. Twitter may partner with many important human rights agendas, however. Distorting reality for people by using virtue-signaling tactics causes trauma.
Virtue signaling can create safe places to promote health and quality of life, not trauma. One phrase that I walk my patients through is identifying values they want to identify with. Values can create authenticity in humans. Authenticity is a characteristic that psychologists-many but not all-suggest promote a person’s mental health. Virtues and values go together. I wonder what our communities would reflect if humans used virtue signaling as means toward a positive end. Virtue signaling can point people to a person’s character, integrity, and sense of self-worth. People can stand for views that in fact, they believed in. The behavior of a person can then align with their values and virtues. Authenticity can produce a community that desires to pursue the common good; the pursuit of human dignity by a community erases spaces where people may experience trauma. Virtue signalizing without authentic intentions leads to possible traumatic experiences.
Ramon Diaz, Jr. M.A., LPC, NCC, CCTS, CDBT
Clinical Complex Trauma Specialist (CCTS-1),
Certified Dialectical Behavioral Therapist (C-DBT),
in progress, Certified Alcohol & Drug Abuse Counseling (CADC),
Clinical Therapist – Sprout Family Clinics
Adolescent and Family Therapist – Bridgeview Clinical Services