The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Tuesday May 24th

Column: Don’t just talk about it, be about it

<p>Devon Johnson, opinion editor.&nbsp;</p>
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Devon Johnson, opinion editor. 

If you re-posted the picture of those two kangaroos hugging, or a sad koala perched in front of a charred forest or that red-spotted satellite image of Australia recently, you were probably just virtue signaling

Don’t get me wrong, the Australian wildfires are a tragedy that deserve attention on social media. So, you’re not wrong for expressing your moral outrage or solidarity on Twitter, but you’re also not ... not virtue signaling — also known as social commentary for the purpose of indicating your morality. 

I’m not saying that virtue signaling is inherently bad ⁠— there’s no such thing as bad publicity, right? But I did have a moment last week when I saw that same sad picture of the ash-dusted joeys, hit the paper plane icon and started swiping to see which filter made them look the most sad. 

Now, the moment you’re having while reading this is likely the same moment that I had — I thought to myself, 'This is ridiculous,' and decided not to post the picture to my story. Immediately afterwards, I had an even weirder moment where I felt bad for not having shared anything on my story about the blaze. 

Did my lack of virtue signaling actually make me less virtuous? Was I part of the reason why there are so many misplaced marsupials? 

In short, no.

I surely didn’t lose any sleep over this dilemma. But it did spark new questions about the place of virtue signaling in what we do here at The Daily Tar Heel, and my role in perhaps permitting too much of it in what we publish. 

I mean, as the opinion desk, our job is pretty much to virtue signal for about 500 words with the hope that we’ve convinced readers to take a stance on a social issue. In the best case scenario, our posturing inspires readers to agree, and maybe retweet an article. 

On a more personal level, however, this honestly caused me a lot of frustration as the editor of this desk because I had to wonder: Is this the fullest extent of our work? 

What I’m passionate about is fighting social inequality ⁠— I’m literally majoring in it. Traditionally, that looks like making time to serve community members or actually 'doing the work.' Due to the time commitment of my role at The Daily Tar Heel, however, I’ve had to sacrifice that 'real' advocacy work with the hope that our publication could truly be a space for social change.

After some reflection following last semester, I’ve come to realize two things: 

  1. Yes, we do a lot of virtue signaling,
  2. No, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

But what does that mean? 

It means that ⁠— just like those who use social media as a space for advocacy ⁠— using this platform to raise awareness about social issues is inherently helpful in spreading awareness. More importantly, though, we must recognize that it also means we are not the ones doing the work to combat inequality. 

Especially as an organization that has historically excluded, and even harmed, minority communities, we can't really hold much moral high ground. We could put out 100 editorials damning white supremacy on campus, but it would never rival the work of student leaders who are on the ground, putting in the work and really being ‘about it’ every day.

We owe it to our student organizers, local non-profits and progressive policy-makers for making the structural changes for which we advocate. 

This doesn’t mean that I or my desk will stop writing advocative pieces, it just means that this semester I’ll make an effort to back up my virtue signaling with action. I’m challenging my entire desk, and you all, to do the same. 

Whether it’s through your course of study or career, extracurricular service commitments or simple acts of kindness, we have the capacity to move beyond virtue signaling towards action, and we should.

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