National Comment Comment

Stop virtue signalling - we need real social change

Posting infographics and Instagram stories does not go far enough to tackle discrimination and prejudice

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Image Credit: Solenfeyissa

As a generation we can do better. I truly believe that we need to change because until we do, this generation will continue to focus more on their online appearance than contributing to meaningful change.

There are so many things going on in the world. The current situation in Ukraine is an example of a people in need. Racism is an everyday occurrence. Crises are ongoing across the world and yet when we address these issues we tend to do so superficially rather than having a deep understanding of what is actually happening and without doing anything to meaningfully address these issues.

There are so many cases of this going on, and the social media age has only made this worse. I am 21, I understand the powers and attraction of social media. In fact my position at Nouse is as a Social Media Director. But there are also so many ways that social media has let us down, and the one I am about to discuss is virtue signalling.

The popular definition of ‘virtue signalling’ is an act of publicly expressing sentiments to demonstrate one’s good character.

I cannot count how many times I have logged onto Instagram and seen someone post something about an issue or a crisis that is going on in the world, and yet after those twenty-four hours are up and their story has disappeared, I will never hear them speak of it again. And most often, they are not even expressing their own opinion or alerting us to different ways of helping, they are merely posting with the intention of making sure they look good and informed to other people.

The issue of racism is one that has been linked to this for a long time, especially throughout lockdown in 2020. After the disgusting and horrific murder of George Floyd, many people began publicly discussing racism online. At first, I thought it was fantastic, not only are people spreading awareness about what happened to George Floyd and countless other African Americans who have been subject to vile racist abuse by law enforcement officials, but it also created conversation on racism in general.

"Anti-racism became nothing more than a trend associated with the first lockdown"

Combined with an increasing anti-Asian sentiment in response to the Covid-19 pandemic it could have been the perfect storm for our society to take meaningful and big steps forward in addressing an issue that many people have to experience everyday. But no. Anti-racism became nothing more than a trend that countless people now associate with ‘the first lockdown’. How did we miss this big opportunity? Because people cared more about posting a black screen for ‘blackout Tuesday’ than trying to create a deeper conversation on the issue.

I remember throughout that period getting asked about my own experiences with racism. Whilst I am lucky enough to have never been on the receiving end of violent and horrific racist abuse, I have had my fair share of experiences with casual racism and a couple of more hurtful cases. Being able to share your own experiences and help educate others is a privilege and something that I have always been happy to do. Yet what angered me about this situation is that it took a social media trend for people to have those conversations, and the minute that trend ended, so did those conversations.

We can do better. I welcome the fact that social media was able to give people the courage to share their experiences. I also welcome the fact that it gives those who have not experienced discrimination, in this example racism, the ability to speak about their privilege and be educated on the issue.

But why did this end? Why did we stop talking about racism? Why have we stopped talking about human rights abuses in China? Why have we stopped talking about the huge influx of refugees that still make deadly journeys to try and start a better life for themselves, every single day?

I’ll tell you why.

Because whilst we were busy posting about these issues, rather than donating, or whilst thinking about what caption or what time is best to post, people continued to lose their lives and experience hardships we will never understand. Rather than educating ourselves and others, our generation chooses to post online in order to create a more favourable narrative around ourselves as individuals.

Meanwhile, thousands of people’s lives are changing for the worse in a way we may never experience. And whilst our posts were up on our Instagram stories for 24 hours and we felt good for those 24 hours, millions of people carried on dying. Millions of people also carried on experiencing racism, gender-based violence, being forced out of their homes by their own governments, or were put into concentration camps due to their religion. Because for these people, their issues go beyond the 24 period it takes for us to feel good about ourselves.

Please don’t get me wrong, there are so many posts, threads and pages out there online that have the pure aim of making meaningful change and spreading awareness in order to educate others. And of course, educating people is valuable. But next time you think about posting online, ask yourself: are you doing it for you, or are you doing it for them?

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