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The case for virtue signalling

Sharing is caring, or so they say. Charities such as Greenpeace and Amnesty International and platforms like JustGiving, and GoFundMe know this and have woven sharing into the fabric of their supporter journeys, swiftly taking those who sign their petitions or give a one-off cash gift onto secondary but even more vital calls to action, such as posting the petition on their social media channels and even signing up for a monthly Direct Debit.

While ‘clicktivists’ are a much (and I’d say unfairly) maligned group for their seemingly half-hearted attempts to change the world, the power of sharing is nonetheless an incontrovertible fact and a major tool for charities and NGOs, when harnessed right. Widely shared articles, petitions and campaigns garner digital footfall at an exponential rate; a lucky few will even strike internet gold and go viral. At scale, public pressure can and does achieve real change; over a million signatories forced the government to reverse its decision and provide free school meals to children in England in 2020. Marcus Rashford was rightly crowned as the hero of the campaign, but his groundswell of support from ordinary people (‘clicktivists’, even) should not be overlooked.

Cash-strapped charities don’t have to break the bank to achieve growth. When the cause is compelling, organisations need only ask their core of devoted supporters to go that extra mile and post the content to their personal feed and then sit back and watch as their reach is amplified tenfold. This effortless form of indirect marketing may also support acquisition of longer-term donors, volunteers and campaigners, as new signatories opt in for marketing updates, learn more about the organisation and, down the line, explore additional ways to give their time and money, such as taking part in fundraising challenges or buying virtual gifts from ever-emerging e-shops, such as Crisis' own Shop to Stop Homelessness.

So what’s the problem with this? If you’re like me and you are lucky enough to have friends who are kind, politically attuned and concerned by the state of the world, your news feed will be littered with countless birthday fundraisers and calls to action from a never-ending plethora of causes, ranging from crowdfunders for treatments for rare diseases to government petitions on curbing the powers of the media in the wake of Caroline Flack’s mistreatment and death. For some, this ostentatious benevolence can feel overwhelming and inure them to the urgent and potent suffering at the very root of these posts. For others, it’s just downright irritating and can even prompt them to unfollow a particularly saintly friend or family member.

To my shame, I first heard the term virtue signalling (defined as ‘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’) only last year. It made me examine my habit of resharing virtuous third-party content on Facebook, which I’d deliriously been doing in a sporadic, semi-conscious fashion since 2008, and look critically at my burning need to be admired and ‘liked’ by others, both in the literal and digital sense of the word. I felt ashamed and vowed in that moment to stop sharing petitions and crowdfunders that inspired me, opting instead for a quiet donation behind the social media wall.

That was last year, and 2021 has predictably brought with it a fresh crop of disasters, human rights abuses and social injustices. With every new headline of horror, my conscience gnaws away at me, berating me for sitting idly by while others across the globe suffer in unimaginable ways. I’m not ashamed to say that I’ve reverted to my old ways, happily sharing away every time an Amnesty petition grabs my attention. This isn’t bravery and I hold no delusions that my actions alone can reshape the world, but I also know that those same actions, when taken by people in their hundreds and thousands, can. Being publicly ridiculed for being a virtue signalling slacktivist scares me. But what scares me more is the idea of the privileged few in our society doing absolutely nothing to call out injustice out of their fear of being outed as conspicuous do-gooders.

Trust me, the guilt you will feel from declining to share that petition because it will mark you as a righteous Rita stings far worse than the flush of embarrassment you will feel when you imagine your Facebook friends rolling their eyes at your magnanimity behind their screens. The unfollow button is ready and waiting for them, and they’re welcome to it.

So take heart, proud patrons of praiseworthy posts: a Facebook fundraiser for your birthday might not be the coolest thing to do, but it’s the right thing to do. You go Glen Coco.

Ella Dinsdale is an account manager in the Crisis Partnerships team. To get in touch to discuss fundraising and/or partnerships, please email