Tone Deaf or Virtue Signalling? Watching Our Words in #Lockdown2

At the turn of November, I shared a ‘guilty’ Instagram post stating that I’d been feeling a little ‘tone deaf’ with my content. There you were, watching old Floppy Hair telling us to stay home. I was prancing around in a Halloween costume.

Thankfully, my three whole followers told me there was nothing to worry about. ‘Funny’ content is what people need right now, they said.

That makes Kim Kardashian’s recent faux pas all the more hilarious – or certainly, the memes it spawned.

Oh, Kim. We hope that wasn’t too much of a struggle for you.

Then of course, another one of the clan goes and hosts a very non-socially distanced Halloween party, much to the chagrin of Instagrammers.

Tone deaf or escaping reality?

Perhaps we should give Kendall a break. She’s just trying to get away from this mess, isn’t she? Or does she, as an ‘influencer’ with 150 million followers, have an unspoken duty to set a good example?

Maybe we’re being too sensitive. According to UK Google Trends data from November, the term ‘tone deaf’ has peaked at a score of 100 (Google’s index for relative search term popularity over time). This may be Kim’s doing, or perhaps there’s a new faction of internet users seeking out insensitive posts, waiting to hammer their keyboards.

tone deaf statsI’ll confess – I joined in when social users took aim at Burger King. In a seemingly well-meaning post, Burger King told their consumers to “go to McDonald’s”. But what about the independents, Your Majesty? What about the small businesses who can’t hop on Uber Eats as soon as lockdown is announced?

The rise of virtue signalling

One of the key differences between Lockdown 1 and Lockdown 2 is our attitude towards so-called ‘virtue signalling’. The simple fact is that, with social media offering a global platform to air our grievances, somebody is always going to be upset.

Someone will always find fault with something, no matter how well-intentioned it is. And that has only been amplified in the time of corona. Sensitivity is of course, totally justified, but attacking one another isn’t going to make things any better.

Cast your mind back to April, when our inboxes were filled with “we’re here for you” emails. On the brink of Lockdown 2, they’re nowhere to be seen. Why? Because we’re no longer falling for the BS.

Take it from the stats.

virtue signalling trendsThe phrase, meaning “the action or practice of publicly expressing opinions or sentiments intended to demonstrate one’s good character or the moral correctness of one’s position on a particular issue”, has now made its way into BBC guidelines.

So, is it a good or a bad thing? In the case of Marcus Rashford MBE, who innocently asked his 4 million followers what virtue signalling meant, it was good. Whatever your opinion of footballers, his intervention saw 2,000 businesses stepping up to feed schoolchildren over the October half term. Take note, Jenner.

But it’s not always a good thing, especially where social media is concerned.

As somebody who spends an unhealthy amount of time on Twitter, I see how often people are criticised. Innocuous tweets become an excuse for trolls to attack, citing any number of political or social causes. Is this helping the cause, or creating even more division?

Celebrating our achievements

In an ever more sensitive world, we’re all thinking twice before we hit send. Post. Tweet.

In truth, we’ve been cautious long before social media was so ubiquitous. In 2007, a new movie release starring Ben Affleck, Gone Baby Gone, was delayed. Distributors said that they were “sensitive to the depth of feeling surrounding the disappearance of Madeline McCann”.

Rewind even more, and I have another excuse to reference my comedy hero: Rik Mayall. In 1992, an episode of Bottom was delayed release due to its setting in Wimbledon Common. The timing coincided with the tragic murder of Rachel Nickell on the Common, and it did not air until 1995. A compassionate intervention from the BBC, and worth the wait.

Back to 2020, and we content marketers find ourselves faced with a quandary. If we do have good news, should we share it? Or are we stoking the flames of the trolls, or worse still, making those who genuinely have suffered, feel worse?

Whether or not you want to hear it, I know plenty of people who’ve had a rather prosperous year. Many content writers have enjoyed their “best ever months”, and have been brave enough to share it. In times of crisis, somebody will always profit – in this case, it’s those in digital.

Speaking with bias, I personally feel there is no shame in sharing good news. It’s November, which is traditionally ‘award season’. It would be disappointing to feel as though those who have worked hard couldn’t share their news.

How do we strike the balance?

If there’s one thing we learn as we get older, it’s that we can’t please everybody. It’s perhaps best told in one of Aesop’s Fables: the tale of the man, the boy and the donkey.

For every 100 people who will celebrate your new client win, there will be one who grumbles at your “lack of sensitivity”. For every 2,000 meals you donate to schoolchildren, there will be one MP who wrinkles her nose.

My advice, as somebody who’s both suffered trolls and enjoyed tons of support, would be this.

Don’t tell people how to live their lives

(Unless you’re Katie writing a blog, obviously.) It’s easy to say, “shop local”, “eat organic” or “practise self-care”, but you don’t know what everybody is going through. They might not have transport to reach local businesses, or they might be overwhelmed looking after their children. Try practising what you preach instead.

Don’t be a Kim

Or at least, read the room. Celebrating an award win is a world away from hiring a private island. That’s not to say you shouldn’t be proud – but if it’s likely to ruffle some feathers, work on the positioning. Share the ‘sensitive’ content with likeminded individuals…not 150 million Instagram followers.

Praise; don’t criticise

If somebody’s doing a triathlon for a charity they care about, support them! Praising others for doing a good deed will have far better an impact than criticising those for doing nothing. Not all of us can do triathlons.

Likewise, if you’re doing the good deed yourself, try to be positive. Focus on the benefits of promoting the cause. “We’re giving 200 free school meals to the children who need it most” is far nobler than, “We’re sticking it to those selfish MPs.”*

*Of course, anybody with as much influence as MPs should be held to account, but it’s important to focus on what matters.

Show gratitude

If you’re having a good time right now, we are all here for you. That is fantastic. But chances are, somebody has helped you along the way – be they clients, family or friends. So please remember to be grateful for what you have, and to tell others you love them.

That’s enough virtue signalling for one day. Going to sign off now with one very tone deaf video indeed. Despite lockdown, 2020 has had plenty of silly, standout moments – which I’ve compiled as a way of saying thanks.

Thank YOU. Keep smiling.

tone deaf
Katie Lingo
by Katie Lingo
5th November 2020