The Virtue Economy


In 2018, Amnesty International published a series of reports alleging that Twitter is toxic for female journalists, activists, and politicians. Amnesty’s first report was based on interviews and surveys with women about their experiences of abuse or harassment on social media. The second report, published in December, was based on crowdsourced data collection and machine learning. Amnesty concluded that, “the violence and abuse many women experience on Twitter has a detrimental effect on their right to express themselves equally, freely, and without fear.”

The result of Amnesty’s #ToxicTwitter campaign has been striking, with several leading news organizations positively covering Amnesty’s research. In March, Reuters reported that Twitter is “failing women,” and New York Magazine reported that “Twitter Violates Women’s Human Rights.” In December, Wired reported that “Twitter is Indeed Toxic for Women,” and the Financial Times reported that “Twitter shares tumble amid concern over ‘toxic’ content” after the company was labeled the “Harvey Weinstein of social media” by Citron Research following Amnesty’s report. Naturally, for many, the take-away is that “women have a dramatically different experience on Twitter than men,” a sentiment endorsed by Amnesty International.

There are at least two inconsistencies with the #ToxicTwitter reports. First, and most notably, missing from Amnesty’s analysis is a comparative benchmark, namely that of men’s experiences on Twitter. This is not an appeal to whataboutism but instead a logical point about the empirical claim that “Twitter has a detrimental effect on [women’s] right to express themselves equally.” (emphasis added)

In an NPR interview with the director of Amnesty Tech, NPR asked, “What about men? Did you compare to men?” Amnesty responded:

Yeah. We didn’t actually look at men in this study. And this is partly because this study is the third big piece of research that we’ve done on the phenomenon of violence against women online. And so it’s based off the fact that we already knew and we know that the way that women are targeted online is very different, and it’s very gendered. It’s stuff like doxing and hacking and violent rape threats. And so, in this case, we are very specifically interested in the experience of women because we know, just as offline, discrimination and violence against women is rife.

Amnesty assumed “that the way that women are targeted online is very different,” an assumption that was not challenged by the NPR interviewer and an assumption that is not supported by empirical evidence. Data suggest that men may experience toxicity online at similar or even higher rates than women. The Pew Research Center found that overall, more men experience online harassment than women (44 percent vs. 37 percent), and men are twice as likely to experience online harassment as a result of their political views (19 percent vs. 10 percent).

In addition, of the six categories of online harassment that Pew analyzed, men experience higher rates than women for two of the categories: they are more likely to be called offensive names (30 percent vs. 23 percent) and to receive physical threats online (12 percent vs. 8 percent). Sexual harassment is the only category where women experience higher rates than men (8 percent vs. 4 percent). Three categories of online harassment show no statistically significant differences by gender, including purposeful embarrassment, stalking, and sustained harassment.

We have good reason to believe that the Pew data are reliable given that, when the study populations intersect, the findings are consistent with Amnesty’s research. For example, according to Pew, “blacks who go online are especially likely to say that they have been called offensive names (38 percent compared with 28 percent of white internet users) or to say that someone has tried to purposefully embarrass them (34 percent vs. 23 percent).” These data are consistent with Amnesty’s findings, where nearly 9 percent of Twitter mentions toward black women were problematic, compared to only 5.5 percent toward white women.

Additionally, according to the Anti-Defamation League’s report on antisemitic targeting of journalists during the presidential election, 10 journalists received 83 percent of the antisemitic tweets analyzed. Of these 10 journalists, seven were men, including all of the top three. These studies provide prima facie evidence that the online experiences of women are not necessarily more toxic than those of men.

Secondly, Amnesty’s summary of its key findings is misleading. For example, Amnesty states that “women of colour (black, Asian, Latinx, and mixed-race women) were 34 percent more likely to be mentioned in abusive or problematic tweets than white women.” This statement is entirely driven by the difference in treatment between black and white women, not the treatment of Asian, Latinx, and mixed-race women.

While it’s true that black women receive more problematic and abusive tweets than white women, Latinx women receive fewer problematic and abusive tweets than white women (4 percent vs. 5.6 percent problematic; 0.8 percent vs. 1.2 percent abusive). The rates are equivalent between white, Asian, and mixed-race women (5.6 percent vs. 5.7 percent vs. 5.8 percent problematic; 1.2 percent vs. 1.2 percent vs. 1.3 percent abusive). By summarizing the findings as white women versus people of color, in the aggregate, the statistics will support a discrepancy, but this finding is driven purely by the fact that black women receive about 60 percent more problematic tweets and 84 percent more abusive tweets than all other women. A worthwhile headline could be that white, Asian, Latinx, and mixed-race women were all treated the same on Twitter. But this headline wouldn’t serve Amnesty’s mission.

Why did Amnesty omit men from their study? Why did their headline statistics misleadingly report the racial breakdown for problematic and abusive tweets? I believe social signaling provides an answer.

“While Philanthropy Needs Money to Survive, It Needs Status to Attract Money.”1

For decades, many scholars from different disciplinary backgrounds have argued in favor of a basic idea: that altruism is a prestige-seeking activity, rather than a truly “unselfish regard for or devotion to the welfare of others.” According to the signaling theory of altruism, individuals engage in altruistic behavior (such as donating or volunteering to charity) as costly signals—conscious or subconscious—that credibly develop their reputations as wealthy, kind, generous, compassionate, and empathic in order to gain respect, prestige, and social status.2

Nowhere is this point clearer than in elite competitive philanthropy. In Why the Wealthy Give, Francie Ostrower documents elite philanthropy in New York City, finding that charitable giving is an important indicator of class and social status. Elites mainly give to impress each other: “wealthy donors are generally more focused on their peers, rather than those outside their class, as the audience for their philanthropy.”

Our donations to charity are not necessarily intended to maximize the benefit to others or efficiently provide the most good. Research in the social sciences suggest that people often donate money to personally benefit. As economists have found, if people are primarily motivated by the output produced by the charity (such as reducing poverty, feeding the homeless, advancing human rights, and so on), then we should observe standard free-rider problems. However, it turns out that we do not, at least not as often as would be predicted:

Most empirical studies of survey or donation data find that on average the benefit appears to be private [personal] in nature. This suggests that the last dollar that we give to charity is not motivated by the nonprofit’s output. (emphasis added)

An important personal benefit that donors receive is a boost to their reputation, i.e. a status benefit. We heap moral praise on individuals who successfully signal their virtue, generosity, and compassion. And we do so publicly, through Nobel Peace Prizes, medals for bravery in wartime, name recognition on buildings and plaques, and more quotidian instances in our social lives. Psychologists and biologists have also found that we choose long-term partners based on their successful displays of kindness, generosity, empathy, and heroism. “We fall in love with…mental and moral traits.

The disposition to participate in altruistic behavior has evolved to communicate an individual’s underlying socially attractive qualities, such as wealth and abundance of resources,3 compassion and empathy,4 prosociality5 or cooperative inclinations,6 and loyalty to group norms and values.7 Potential mates and allies socially reward individuals for their conspicuous altruism. Signalers donate money as a display of their social desirability, and the audience of the signaler evaluates the signal insofar as it communicates something useful about the signaler.

Charitable individuals receive status benefits, not for how much good their actions do, but for what the sacrificial action communicates about their character. This produces social incentives for individuals to enact their charity in a conspicuous manner rather than to quietly behave altruistically with the intention to be optimally beneficial. The signaler is more interested in being seen providing assistance and less interested in the effect of that assistance. “The helper benefits from the act of helping, and the benefits to others are incidental—a side effect.”8

Signalers can increase the cost of the donation by giving away more money, donating more time, or engaging in physically strenuous activity (e.g. charity runs, dumping ice-water on one’s head). The costlier the signal, the more morally virtuous the signaler is presumed to be by her audience, regardless of the effect of the costly behavior on the intended beneficiaries.9 When potential allies and mates observe signaling behavior, they are interested in gleaning information about what to expect in social interactions with the signaler. Information pertaining to the effectiveness of the signaler’s donation is not useful information for allies and mates; it typically has no bearing on their social interactions with signalers.

David Brooks, in his criticism of the “earning to give” strategy (in which somebody earns a high-paying salary in order to donate much of it to charity), unintentionally makes the case for the signaling theory of altruism. “When we evaluate our friends, we don’t just measure the consequences of their lives. We measure who they intrinsically are. We don’t merely want to know if they have done good. We want to know if they are good.”

More relevant information to the audience will pertain to how well the donation conforms with the values of the audience’s social community, the size of the donation, and the political message the donation sends. As Eric A. Posner states in Law and Social Norms, “If enough people care sufficiently about their reputations (for being generous or for being wealthy) …people’s charitable contributions will not be…sensitive to the well-being of the donee.”

A donation to the NRA Foundation, which operates as a tax-exempt civil rights charity, may signal loyalty, toughness, and virtue to a conservative audience in rural America, but such a donation would send the wrong signals to a liberal, metropolitan audience. Republican Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith told a conservative crowd in Mississippi during the 2018 Senate race: “The Second Amendment right, the right to bear arms, is one of my strongest beliefs. I have been an NRA member for many, many, many years. My daughter, on her second birthday, got a lifetime membership to the NRA. So anybody who has any question about that, put it to rest.”

In contrast, a donation to Planned Parenthood would send the wrong signal to conservatives. It is not surprising, then, that Republicans smear other Republican candidates by accusing them of supporting Planned Parenthood. Candidate Sen. Chris McDaniel accused Sen. Hyde-Smith of supporting Planned Parenthood during the 2018 Mississippi Senate race. Hyde-Smith was forced to clarify, in no uncertain terms, that “Planned Parenthood is one of the worst things that has ever happened to us,” despite there being only one Planned Parenthood clinic in the state of Mississippi, and it is a clinic that does not perform abortions. Virtually every politician uses these and other charities to signal something about themselves.

Signaling also explains the rarity of anonymous donations. In the 1990s, Glazer and Konrad calculated anonymous donations to non-profits on file at the Pittsburgh Business Library. They found that the highest anonymous donation rates were to the Pittsburgh Philharmonic at 1.29 percent, Carnegie Mellon University at 0.26 percent, and Yale Law School at 0.21 percent. I collected data on the International Rescue Committee’s donations in 2017, and less than 10 percent were anonymous. If people donate to charity, in large part to receive status benefits, it makes sense that few people donate anonymously.

Signaling explains the “watching eyes” effect. In experimental studies of donor behavior, researchers have consistently found that images of eyes nearby increase the probability of donating.10 This suggests “the existence of automatic cognitive mechanisms for detecting social gaze and regulating social behavior accordingly.”

Signaling can explain why so few donors research charities before contributing. As Kevin Simler and Robin Hanson describe in Elephant in the Brain, donors usually do not spend time researching which charity most effectively helps their cause of interest because doing so generates private information. The donor gets signaling credit when donating to a charity that is publicly known, such as large, wealthy charities with name recognition like Amnesty International, high-profile natural disasters, or local churches and schools well-known to an individual’s local community.

Even when donors research charities, they mainly do so to validate the donation they have already made. Only 6.5 percent of donors claim to do comparative research on how much charities are accomplishing before making a charitable contribution. Less than one percent of donors spend more than a day researching charities. In experimental settings, researchers have found that people often do not choose welfare-maximizing options, even when they are given information about effectiveness.

Donors Buy Virtue from Charities, and Charities Curate the Product

Human rights non-governmental organizations (NGOs)—like Amnesty International—provide a signaling service to their donors. Donors purchase this signaling service, paying for the ability to show the world they are prosocial, open, multi-cultural, compassionate, empathic, and politically liberal. The primary product on offer is a badge outwardly signaling that the wearer is a person who is associated with the broadly known values of the human rights NGO. For the donor, the benefit is prestige and status that comes with associating with the organization. The NGO, for doing its part, receives money, status, and authority.11

The NGO world is a crowded space. Donors have millions of charities from which to choose. An organization does not need to convince donors to change their minds to attract their donation. Instead, the NGO can convince donors that it represents their views and will provide assistance in signaling their commitment to these views and loyalty to their community.

Corporations have discovered the power of virtue-signaling. In a New York Times article, Paul Sullivan writes, “Firms learn that as they help charities, they also help their brands.” For example, Subaru chose “well-known, noncontroversial charities,” such as the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Make-A-Wish Foundation, and Meals on Wheels. On the other hand, Discovery Communications, which produces Shark Week, began a wild tiger conservation program.

Companies also signal their virtues in advertisements. Gillette’s viral commercial “We Believe: The Best Men Can Be” was a calculated virtue-branding effort destined to annoy some and attract others, a worthwhile trade for a declining brand. Amnesty International USA, in a rare endorsement of a corporation, tweeted in support of Gillette: “People are upset about the Gillette ad? Repeat after me: We want a world without #ToxicMasculinity.” The international Twitter account for Amnesty likewise supported the ad: “The [world] will be a better place without #ToxicMasculinity.” In a response to an NPR query, a Gillette spokesperson said, “No longer can companies ‘just advertis[e] product benefits.’ These days ‘brand-building’ also means taking a stand on important societal issues, controversial as they may be.”

A study on corporate social responsibility found that 87 percent of study respondents reported “they would buy a product because of something the company advocated.” However, if the company advocates (signals) the wrong cause, 76 percent said they would boycott the product. This consumer demand produces an incentive for companies to learn what their customers want to signal and enhance their brand through the power of signaling.12

Just as companies both sell products and brands, so too, do human rights NGOs. They produce ethical products (e.g. issue awareness campaigns) that function in part to enhance the donor’s reputation. Human rights NGOs compete in an overcrowded charity market by convincing donors they can offer the best signaling value. And donors pick and choose which charity they believe will best improve their self-presentation. For some donors, a well-known international human rights NGO like Amnesty International might signal the right traits and values, given their social community. For others, it might be their alma mater or their church.

When human rights NGOs are partly funded to sell virtue, we should expect inconsistencies in their application of universal human rights principles, as demonstrated by Amnesty’s #ToxicTwitter campaign. Not all human rights issues or victim profiles send the same signals, even to people who claim to be committed to the idea that they should. Intriguingly, altruism signals may be affected by the victim profile, or recipient type. Metzger and Günther demonstrate experimentally that demand among donors is highest for information about the recipient type and lowest for information about aid impact. In another experiment, Bachke, Alfnes, and Wik show that information on recipient type has the largest impact on donation behavior, with children receiving the most donations, followed by girls, women, boys, and lastly, men.

Causes pertaining to women’s rights constitute the most popular category of human rights philanthropy. According to the Advancing Human Rights Initiative, 28.4 percent of all human rights philanthropic grants went toward women and girls from 2011 to 2015 (beating all other categories, including children, refugees, LGBTQI, and indigenous peoples, among others). This backdrop offers an initial glance into the social environment in which human rights donors likely find themselves.

The social expectation in the human rights community is that women are oppressed, and men are the oppressors. Tania Reynolds and her colleagues demonstrate experimentally that subjects in the United States and South Korea tend to, by default, assume that women are sensitive and vulnerable victims while men are powerful wrongdoers. This widely shared baseline expectation produces social incentives for donors to support human rights NGOs that adhere to and confirm this public perception.

Charli Carpenter documents gender discrimination against men in the international human security sector. In Innocent Women and ChildrenCarpenter documents how international humanitarian organizations evacuated women and children from besieged Srebrenica, leaving behind adult civilian men, even though adult men were systematically targeted and slaughtered by the Bosnian Serb Army. In ‘Lost’ Causes by the same author, human rights NGOs refused to take up involuntary infant male circumcision as a human rights cause, despite its issue-complementarity with female genital mutilation. It was viewed as competing with and minimizing women’s problems.

The major distinction between human rights violations against women and human rights violations against men is not that the former is an objectively worthier cause than the latter but that the former is publicly understood in the cosmopolitan human rights community, and the latter is not. The signaling theory of altruism expects that public knowledge will be a more relevant factor in shaping an individual’s altruistic behavior than private knowledge.13

Amnesty’s recent signaling misfire upon its foray into the sex work issue helps to illustrate the point. In 2015, Amnesty announced a new policy in favor of fully decriminalizing sex work, arguing that no consenting adults involved in sex work should be criminalized—including the buyers (who are disproportionately men). This policy position angered many public feminists as well as many Amnesty donors, who argued instead for the decriminalization of the (female) sex worker but the continued criminalization of the (male) buyer. Many celebrities, writers, feminists, and NGOs publicly denounced Amnesty’s policy by arguing that prostitution is “sexist, racist, and classist,” and that Amnesty’s policy would “fuel rape culture.” As many as 500 members (donors) from Amnesty’s Sweden office left the organization after the policy roll-out.

Soon after the policy announcement, Amnesty essentially killed the campaign. They stopped issuing reports on sex work, and aside from a few meager attempts to respond to the backlash, they did not attempt to shift public opinion in favor of their policy. Amnesty’s new policy on decriminalizing sex work was a signaling failure. Regardless of the merits of Amnesty’s position, it signaled the opposite of what most human rights donors wish to signal. It jeopardized donors’ ability to signal their alliance with, and their compassion and empathy for women. The “recipient type” of Amnesty’s work was perceived by many to have shifted from women (the sex workers) to men (the buyers).

Signaling offers an elegant explanation for why we should expect to observe inconsistencies in the work of human rights NGOs. Although universality is a key property of human rights principles, we know from decades of work on evolutionary and moral psychology that individuals develop moral judgments based in large part on social expectations, and these social expectations do not always neatly correspond to an impartial treatment of one’s principles. To the extent that human rights NGOs are funded by selling reputation or virtue to donors, we should expect inconsistencies to be a regular feature in their work.

*     *     *

Jonathan Haidt offers useful advice in The Righteous Mind, which can be applied to the human rights NGO sector: “Moral reasoning is part of our lifelong struggle to win friends and influence people…You’ll misunderstand moral reasoning if you think about it as something people do by themselves in order to figure out the truth.” Most of the time, our underlying motives for behaving altruistically—to attract potential mates and allies—are hidden to us. We are not necessarily conscious of the signals we send and receive. Robert Trivers, author of Folly of Fools, refers to this as adaptive self-deception: “We deceive ourselves the better to deceive others.”

Amnesty focused its #ToxicTwitter campaign on women, rather than people, because of the signaling value donors could be expected to gain by associating with an organization that fights for women’s rights. To mention the (potentially worse) situation for men on Twitter would be to ship a product the donors didn’t ask for. By only studying women, Amnesty made headlines for multiple days in a row with entirely positive press, allowing their supporters to reap social credit for associating with Amnesty. By all accounts, their #ToxicTwitter campaign was a signaling hit. Based on the positive receptivity, we should expect more of the same.


Suzie Mulesky is a PhD Candidate in Political Science and International Relations at the University of Southern California, Visiting Scholar at Indiana University’s Ostrom Workshop, and member of Heterodox Academy. You can e-mail her at and follow her on Twitter at @SuzieMulesky


1 Ostrower, Francie (1995) Why the Wealthy Give: The Culture of Elite Philanthropy.
2 Simler, Kevin and Robin Hanson (2018) Elephant in the Brain: Hidden Motives in Everyday Life.
3 Zahavi, Amotz and Avishag Zahavi (1997) The Handicap Principle: A Missing Piece of Darwin’s Puzzle.
4 Miller, Geoffrey (2000) The Mating Mind: How Sexual Choice Shaped the Evolution of Human Nature.
5 Tessman, Irwin (1995) “Human Altruism as a Courtship Display.”

6 Posner, Eric A. (2000) Law and Social Norms.
7 Levine, John M. and Richard L. Moreland (2002) “Group Reactions to Loyalty and Disloyalty.” In Advances in Group Processes, Vol. 19. Group Cohesion, Trust and Solidarity.
8 Zahavi, Amotz and Avishag Zahavi (1997) The Handicap Principle: A Missing Piece of Darwin’s Puzzle.
9 Olivola, Christopher Y (2011) “When Noble Means Hinder Noble Ends: The Benefits and Costs of a Preference for Martyrdom in Altruism.” The Science of Giving: Experimental Approaches to the Study of Charity. For example, see the discussion on the Doctors Without Borders experiment.

10 Kelsey, Caroline, Amrisha Vaish, and Tobias Grossmann (2018) “Eyes, More Than Other Facial Features, Enhance Real-World Donation Behavior.”
11 Stroup, Sarah and Wendy Wong (2017) The Authority Trap: Strategic Choices of International NGOs
12 Miller, Geoffrey (2010) Spent: Sex, Evolution, and Consumer Behavior.
13 Simler, Kevin and Robin Hanson (2018) Elephant in the Brain: Hidden Motives in Everyday Life.


  1. Larry Larkin says

    A more accurate description would be shorter – Twitter is toxic.

    • Dan Love says

      I’m waiting for Suzie’s retraction article admitting she is a misogynistic transphobe now seeking psychological help from the Lactavious Mensuck Institute to cure her violent sexism.

      In that article, she will write how her department absolutely did not threaten to rescind her Ph.D candidacy, but that she had an epiphany in realizing her bigotry after witnessing the overwhelming beauty of three transracial lesbians kissing.

      • A Reader says

        @Dan Love In reality, USC is promoting the article in multiple places including on the front page of her department’s website:

        I know you’re joking, but it is fantastic to see her being fully supported by her institution and by the many academics who have shared their positive impression of the quality of this piece.

        • Dan Love says


          I have some unfortunate news for you. Real-life lesbians are not people anyone wants to see a photo of.

          @A Reader

          There are fewer academics who openly support anything that challenges the SJW narrative than there are Orthodox Jewish Nazis. If you found some of these three-eyed leprechauns riding unicorns, I encourage you to celebrate while you still can.

          However, I will refrain from clicking that link because I fear it will increase my hope for academia, and such hope is so easily and swiftly obliterated.

          A College Academic

    • Thylacine says

      Suzie asks, “Why did Amnesty omit men from their study?” The answer is simple. Female is the limiting resource in mammalian reproduction. That means males compete more strenuously against each other for mating opportunities than females do; it means that the fewer male winners get it all while the many male losers are dispensable. You are fighting against tens of millions of years of evolution if you want the interests of males to be considered equally with the interests of females. This is why “Causes pertaining to women’s rights constitute the most popular category of human rights philanthropy.”

      • 370H55V says

        That makes sense if you are limiting your concern to females of reproductive age. Beyond that they are just as useless as all males.

  2. Gary Gavegan says

    MSM all over Amnesties push for women’s rights. Now is it in MSMs interest to pursue women’s rights, or to get on the virtue signalling band wagon to bring more pressure for censoring twitter (their greatest competitor) into decline.

    • Nakatomi Plaza says

      From the Pew study mentioned in the article:

      “Still, sexual harassment is more common among women than among men and is a particular problem for young women. Among adults ages 18 to 29, women are more than twice as likely as men to report experiencing sexual harassment online (21% vs. 9%). And among the youngest adults – those ages 18 to 24 – women are more than three times as likely to be sexually harassed online (20% vs. 6% of men).”

      Men are slightly more likely to be harassed, but women are far more likely to be sexually harassed. This would seem to confirm Amnesty International’s thesis.

      Yet another bullshit Quillette article based on a carefully skewed and selective reading of data.

      • Author of the essay here. I cite the Pew report you reference here for a reason. While Amnesty assumes that women face more online abuse than men, the data from Pew and the Anti-Defamation League demonstrate that men face more harassment for some categories (e.g. physical threats), and women face more harassment according to another category (namely, sexual harassment).

        Amnesty’s treatment of online abuse is far more wide-ranging than just sexual harassment, as demonstrated by both of their reports. My treatment of the data is not selective. Amnesty’s, however, is. They don’t bother to research men’s experiences at all. This essay explains why.

        • Severus Snape says

          @Ms. Mulesky

          Just a heads up, Nakatomi is know around here for not arguing in good faith.

      • The author acknowledges greater online sexual harrassment of women. She provides many other data points about greater harrassment of men in other areas. And the differences are more than slight. Amnesty could only be right if one assumes sexual harrassment is the only form of harrassment that exists.

      • Peuri says

        @Nakatomi Plaza
        Did you read the article? This is discussed in paragraph 6.

      • Stoic Realist says

        @nakatomi plaza

        Which is, of course, exactly what you are doing here by finding one single point to harp on that supports you and ignoring anything that doesn’t. Even to the extent of ignoring the thrust of the article to do so. Everyone has the right to be biased. They just don’t have the right to pretend to be objective while they are doing it. You would be better off just admitting you don’t care about the other side and are only interested in your own narrow issues.

        As far as the article goes out it’s a very interesting look into what truly motivates giving. It also goes a long way to explaining why huge dollar amounts of giving seem to have little impact on rising the troubles they are dedicated to.

      • Stephanie says

        Nakatomi Plaza, did you read the article? It explicitly discusses that women receive more sexual harassment (as if that wasn’t obvious), but sexual harassment is not all that matters.

        Besides, that women are much more harassed wasn’t Amnesty International’s “thesis,” it was their foundational presupposition. They didn’t attempt to examine whether men or women were more likely to be harassed on Twitter.

      • Thylacine says

        @Nakatomi – The problem you don’t recognize is that the standards for sexual harassment are different between men and women. If a man tells a sexual joke, that’s harassment; but if a woman wears revealing clothing that is distracting and unwelcome, that isn’t harassment. If a man pats a woman on the bum at a bar, that’s sexual harassment; but if a woman knees a man in the balls, that isn’t sexual assault or even harassment – it is giving the guy what he deserves for making a pass. Etc., etc. Examples of this double standard can be multiplied endlessly. So when you compare women’s experiences with sexual harassment to men’s, you are comparing apples to oranges. But you wouldn’t get that if you only care about the woman’s point of view.

  3. Excellent well written article – opened my eyes on a few things I’d not considered

  4. The problem with the virtue signalling theory although I am sure it is correct is that it does not address the core of the issue – Why is it considered virtuous to support/investigate issues for women but not for men even when for the issues concerned women are better treated than men. The fact that the motive for an action is virtue signalling does not matter if it leads to good outcomes. Protecting women is a good outcome but ignoring issues that affect men is not.

    Amnesty’s report is sadly typical.

    Somes questions are:

    1. Why are they studing violence againist women online? Does such a thing exist?

    2. Is there an correlation between online threats and violence? Has there for example been even one cas eof an online rape threat followed by an actual rape?

    3. What are the actual statistics for violence against men and women? Certainly in the UK violence aganst men is much higher than against women.

    4. As the article mentions what is the rate of online abuse against men ? All the studies I have seen show it comparable to but larger than that against women.

    • Lightning Rose says

      Damned if I can see how “violence” takes place online, unless one equates words with “violence.” You are in control of this at all times. Close the app. Delete social media. Turn the bloody box OFF, already. How does someone do you “violence” through an electronic communications device with which you engage voluntarily? Instagram is not life support, people!

      • @ Lightning Rose

        You see, the problem with that Rose, is that it implies women and racial minorities have responsibility over something, and to expect that is to oppress them.

  5. E. Olson says

    Words as violence strikes once again. Men are 4 times more likely to be murdered than women and also far more likely to by physically assaulted, men are also victims of 92% of workplace deaths, but lets ignore all that actual violence and death and instead study how some mean Twitter words might hurt the feelings of women. Amnesty International used to be concerned about political prisoners, but a quick online search didn’t reveal gender breakdown on political prisoner populations, although I would be shocked if men didn’t substantially outnumber women on that count also. Based on the article, I’m guessing that publicizing the number of minority religion followers locked up in Muslim countries or democracy organizers locked up in Socialist countries just doesn’t attract donations from wealthy Leftists like mean tweets to women do. And of course we wouldn’t want to get “off message” by studying the sources of those mean Tweets, which I expect are disproportionately from other women (aka mean girls), because donations will be much higher if we let donors infer it is evil men who are hurting women with their mean tweets. And just what is Amnesty International going to do with all those tweet related donations – lobby Twitter to stop all “mean tweets”, which we can assume will mean any tweet containing hurtful words such as “Trump”, “Make America Great”, “Build a Wall”, “Muslim terrorist”, “Republican”, “welfare queen”, and anything else hurtful to Leftist sensibilities.

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  7. J Hilling says

    “not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing” refers to giving alms (tithe) in secret and stands in contrast with drawing attention to our giving. Those who give in order to receive accolades from others have already received their reward (Matthew 6:2)

    • Christina Arasmo Beymer says

      Yes, I was thinking of this the moment I started reading this article.

      I’m not a Christian, but even this bit of excellent advice has been applied during my life, my mother would repeat it often. To me it’s like asking for a humbleness award. It cancels out the charity on some level.

  8. This shouldn’t be surprising, after all its men who shout “women and children first”.

    Its the same reason why the protagonist in a horror film is more likely to be an attractive young woman rather than a fat middle-aged man – its an easy way to make us care more about the character.

  9. James Hamilton says

    ” Research in the social sciences suggest that people often donate money to personally benefit”…have we really just noticed this? Jesus Christ was going on about how you shouldn’t use philanthropy for social gain over 2000 years ago:

    Matthew 6:2 “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.”

    • E. Olson says

      James – I suspect that many more donors actually start out wishing to be anonymous, but are talked into “going public” by the receiving organization in order to attract further donations by others who are attracted by the “signals”.

    • david of Kirkland says

      Ironic considering it resulted in a best selling book touting his actions, created empires, and has churches to him ever few blocks.

      • Irrational Actor says

        Yes David, it really is a sweet irony isn’t it!

  10. Louis Roodt says

    Excellent read. I have long had these very views, but this will help to serve as some basis for further exploration on my part.

    • @trajan Fanzine

      I almost had to stop reading at “LatinX”

      I guess the author counld’t resist virtue signaling

      • Jeffery Lewis says

        I’m not ready to assume it was virtue signaling. A Latinx woman sounds way cooler than a Latina woman.

        • david of Kirkland says

          No, it’s virtue signaling PC inclusivity while also remaining fully tribal.

        • Lightning Rose says

          “Latinx?” Is that like “latin,” crossed with “minx?”

        • Bob W. says

          From Wikipedia: “The term is a politicized neologism that has gained traction among advocacy groups intersectionally combining the identity politics of race and gender.”

      • Stephanie says

        @Jim, the author did not choose that word, it was a quote from Amnesty International.

        What was wrong with simply saying “Latin” when one wanted to specify no gender?

    • Dan Love says

      I threw up a tiny bit in my mouth reading “latinx”.

    • A Reader says

      The author stated in the comments that “Latinx” was the category used by Amnesty International in their report. It is not the author’s chosen language. Consistency with the original report is standard practice for cross reference.

    • beyondyesandno says

      I was wondering how that word got past the editorial process. I was sure Quillette ran an article a couple of years ago about how it is a bastardisation of the Spanish language that no-one who understands the language would use, but I can’t find it. This one makes the same point, but less eloquently:

  11. Roger says

    I couldn’t continue reading when you started drooping latinx like it was normal

  12. Dark Matter says

    I’d argue that another critical component of online harassment that seems to have gone un-studied by the folks at Amnesty is WHO is doing the harassing.

    I recall hearing of a pair of studies a few years back, one funded and publicized in an ad campaign by Dove, which showed evidence that the majority (I believe they claimed around 2/3) of all online harassment directed toward women was…from other women. In particular, one of the studies (the non-Dove one if I’m remembering correctly) did a wide-scale sweep of “misogynist” Twitter comments directed at women and found that the vast majority originated from…women’s accounts.

    I can’t make a claim as to the veracity of the studies, as I’m just going off my memory, and can’t point to them directly, but take it as food for thought. I do recall the Dove campaign being similar to the recent Gillette ad, in that it encouraged women to “be better” and also essentially to stop infighting. It didn’t seem to get nearly the amount of public reaction (either good or bad) as Gillette – I suppose the idea of women bullying other women is just not as popular.

    • I remember that survey also and the stony silence with which it was greeted by the Grauniad. As if the idea of women being other than warm and sisterly to each other was completely unheard of. Surprising, as most of their writers were privately educated at all-girl schools which, from what I can gather, manage to make Lord of the Flies seem like a teddy bears picnic.

    • Gilles St-Gilles says

      I had not heard of those. A little googling lead me to:
      – A 2014 study from cosmetics firm Dove found that over five million negative tweets were posted about beauty and body image. Four out of five were sent by women.

      – Over a three-week period, Demos monitored UK Twitter users’ use of the words “slut” and “whore,” which they used as indicators of misogyny. When they broadened their search internationally, they found over 200,000 agressive tweets using the same terms, which were sent to 80,000 people in the same period. Of those classified as human users, 53 per cent were classified by the gender annotator as female and 47 per cent were classified as male.

      I don’t know anything about that Dove campaign. I’m pretty sure that if it went: “OK peoplekind has suffered long enough from your toxic feminity, so girls, can you put a cork on your bitching each other and everyone all the time”, it would have provoked some hostility.

  13. Mayank says

    This article brings attention to a major gender issue in our society. As our societies have become more gender equal by resolving issues faced by women, issues faced by men ( eg. men get 63% longer sentences in USA as compared to women for the same crime with same criminal history) are of far more relative importance than they used to be in the past but feminists have made talking about these issues a taboo topic by associating them with Alt-right and Manosphere. The future does not look good for men if this goes on for long.

    • E. Olson says

      If all men in construction, repair, maintenance, engineering, sanitation, and transportation called in sick for a week, the whole nation would collapse as everything we need to survive depends on those jobs and men do 95% of them. If men decided to not pay taxes for a year, the nation would be instantly bankrupt because only men are net financial contributors to government, and lets see lady IRS officials try to wrestle the money away from Joe Sixpack. If men decide not to shave for 6 months, Gillette…

      • Emerald City says

        If all women in healthcare, childcare (paid and unpaid), education, administration, accounting, and customer service called in sick for a week, the whole nation would also come to a screeching halt rather quickly. Grown men call spending time with their own children “Babysitting,” I don’t think they’d know what to do if they didn’t have mom and/or daycare to do it for them when they grew tired of it. Successful single dads not withstanding.

        Then again, you seem like the type of knuckle-dragging beast who probably just beats his wife when she doesn’t do as she’s told.

        • E. Olson says

          EC – ouch – your last line is likely very similar to those mean tweets that were the subject the “women abuse only” Amnesty International study. As for the rest, there are more than enough male healthcare givers to keep the truly sick alive a week while the less serious cases (including hypochondriac women) would just have to wait (they can pretend they are in Canada or the UK where non-serious cases get to wait weeks or months for a medical appointment), some children would have to spend time with dad getting home schooled and likely learning more than from their unionized school, customer service would be shifted to an India call center or automated Internet sites, and the world would otherwise run very smoothly during that woman’s week off, just like virtually no one noticed when the government was shut down for a month. I am sure, however, with so much time off that there would be a huge increase in mean girl tweets.

        • markbul says

          “Grown men call spending time with their own children “Babysitting,”

          I spy
          A lie

          No doubt a lesbian.

        • Stephanie says

          @Emerald City, that’s a disgusting thing to say, be ashamed of yourself.

          Putting aside the fact women would only hurt themselves by not taking care of their own children, it would indeed be a great thing if every women in each of those professions didn’t show up. Parents would go back to taking care of their own kids, children would stop being indoctrinated in leftist ideology in schools, and people would realise how much cheaper and easier it is to order online (delivered disproportionately by men) instead of dealing with a miserable customer service clerk in stores.

          We would soon realise how much administration and accounting departments cost, both in terms of wasted money and the time they make other people waste from their productive days, and a team of (disproportionately male) coders would easily develop programs to make their jobs obsolete.

          The only useful occupation women are disproportionately engaged in is nursing. But, again, we could go back to people caring for their own families, and democratize that profession. Women are more educated than men now, I’m sure they could handle it with a little training.

          Your emotional reaction to E.Olsen’s comment indicates you are a woman and offended at the prospect your sex is less useful. In the professional realm, it is. Men can do everything women can do and more, except for rearing children. You can be a successful working woman and still recognise that reality. Indeed, if you don’t want to embarrass yourself by falling into the stereotype of “hysterical woman,” you must.

        • ga gamba says

          Unpaid childcare. I presume this is one’s own children. This apply to single mums too? There are a lot of them, you know? The mum ought to have chat with herself and ask for a raise. She’s her own employer.

          Anyway, take that week off and not only will her children be taken from her by the state (if they survive that long), she’ll also find herself incarcerated.

          So strong, So brave. So independent. Live the dream, sister twister.

        • Not as fast as things would come to a halt if men stopped working. Unless you have no need for running water, don’t need to drive once your car is out of gas, have a well-stocked freezer (men can do cashier work more easily than women can unload delivery trucks) and own a generator.

          As for traditional families….men rightly consider the children the mother’s job if she’s not contributing to the bills being paid.

          The problem with feminism is that they ignore mens’ contributions entirely and yet expect it all the same. Much as women complain men don’t “see” when a mess needs cleaning up, many women don’t “see” that men still run the necessary infrastructure to keep modern society functioning.

        • says

          @emerald City i think that if you did not react from the gut and had some actual experience in the industry you’d realize E. Olson has point. The comparison to the government shutdown is apt. However, it would be a very unattractive world to live in.

  14. Dean Bisogno says

    An interesting article to be sure. I wasn’t quite ready for this level of cynicism in the philanthropic space; but it makes sense.

    With regard to preference for women’s issues v. men’s issues. Many men’s issues have been ignored (body image, childhood circumcision) and discussion of some has even been contested (the APA stoic masculinity furor). But while trying to discuss these issues, care should be made to not support misogynists which will undoubtedly rally to any pro-male banner. For this reason I can understand why a business vending social capital would be skittish to take up male issues.

    I think it is a worthwhile effort to think of ways to bring attention to men’s issues without throwing bread into the flock of “men’s rights” activists.

    • Craig WIllms says

      @Dean Bisogno
      Wow, just wow. Men can have shit piled on constantly and made to pay for the shovel, but they don’t dare speak up? Disgraceful attitude if you ask me.

      • Brian says

        @Craig Williams

        It’s cringey – you can tell Dean is trying. He’s exploring questioning the default narrative, but both his legs and his torso lie in an ideology he hasn’t seen from the outside yet.

      • Dean Bisogno says

        Not sure how that is your take away from what I said. But to rephrase my thought:

        We desperately need a men’s rights movement. I do not want it to be co-opted by people only interested in exerting power over others. It happens in all social movements that some group latches on and makes it into a zero sum game of identity politics. I think it is important our movement is better than that.

        • Craig WIllms says


          Thanks for the clarification. I’ve just seen the boo hoo attitude foisted on any man or men’s movement when they raise any issue or complaint.

          I would suggest checking out Cassie Jaye’s movie The Red Pill. She WAS a feminist when she began the project to shine the light on the the nefarious men’s movement and expose them as exactly the type of men you warned us against. She had her eye’s opened. She’s now off team radical feminist and on the sidelines justifying various MRAs.

    • Stephanie says

      @Dean, men face more systemic issues than women, and ones that must be solved at the political level. The most salient is family law. We should not be afraid to discuss men’s issues openly and often.

      Circumcision, however, is not one of those issues. Unlike FGM, it does not diminish sexual function, exert control over male sexuality, or have a significant chance of causing serious harm. Banning circumcision would only serve to ban Judaism.

      Judaism is under enough assault from the radical left, which openly aims for the destruction of Israel and presumably the genocide of the ~50% of the global Jewish population that lives there. If the right takes up the cause against the Jews as well, we will be looking at a frightening situation. If you want an issue to tip-toe around, let it be banning Judaism, not advocating men’s rights.

      • Dean Bisogno says


        I don’t know the answer with regards to circumcision. But circumcising a son is a foregone conclusion to many parents regardless of creed. Why do people without any Jewish heritage feel a compulsion to circumcise their sons? Is it the biggest issue confronting men? Of course not. But talking about whether it’s a practice that makes sense for us gentiles shouldn’t be construed as banning Judaism or trying to start a second Jewish Holocaust.

  15. Kristina says

    I see that logical inconsistency in other contexts as well: that if X is bad for women/minorities, X is assumed to be good/neutral for white men. But the likelier story is that X is worse or equally bad for women/minorities as it is for white men. Another example would be jobs in big corporate law firms. Women/minorities might get treated very poorly in big law firms, but really no one is treated very well, even the white men.

    • Craig WIllms says

      What a breath of fresh air. Your point reminds me of –
      ‘Study Finds Men Die at a Younger Age’
      ‘Woman and Children Most Affected’

  16. Morgan Foster says

    @Suzie Mulesky

    For God’s sake, please stop using that pretentious word “latinx”. It reeks of the social justice mob.

    If the phrase “latina women” bothers you – and it would bother me for its redundancy – you could simply use the phrase “latin women”.

    • Author here: Latinx is the phrase Amnesty uses in their report. I’m using it for consistency when I discuss their report. I’m not taking a stand on the Latina vs. Latinx issue.

  17. Craig WIllms says

    I have never tweeted and I never will. Is there any worse example of a technology that has made modern life worse than Twitter? Nothing good comes from it. Nothing. What a colossal waste…

    Amnesty spokesperson: “this study is the third big piece of research that we’ve done on the phenomenon of violence against women online.”

    What, did the smartphone or the mouse suddenly start beating up women? Online violence? WTF. You all have a different definition of violence than I do.

    Put the phone down, turn off the laptop. Talk to your spouse or kids or maybe the neighbor. Get a life!

    • Morgan Foster says

      Recently, one of the office interns asked me for career advice.

      One of the things I advised her to do was to sterilize her social media presence, if it wasn’t already too late.

      She never got back to me, but I hope she did.

    • Lightning Rose says

      I first heard that words, even those of an unknown, anonymous person on a chatboard, were now being equated with “violence” over 7 years ago, on an equestrian site of all places where I was accused of “lack of empathy” (now a thought crime) and “damaging” other users due to nothing more “transgressive” than framing several rather absurd situations humorously. This called down a reign of terror I now of course know as a proto-SJW “pile on.” I got off that board and fast, and thank the Almighty it didn’t extend to doxxing. I was utterly gobsmacked, having grown up with “Sticks & Stones can break my bones but names (words) can never hurt me.”

      This, and fear of the weather, are the products of the Helicopter Parented generation . . .

    • Denny Sinnoh says

      I also do not follow Twitter. I once followed a blue jay on Twitter and it turned out to be pretty shallow.
      All of its tweets were just about birdseed.

  18. When I see people ‘donating’ money to thieving gypsies on the street, it signals to me that there’s a sucker born every minute. My next thought, however, is usually wow, that really takes a big heart, to care about the lowest scum who would poke your eye out for a nickel. That’s Christ like.

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  20. Farris says

    Interesting article. I would add that social media attacks are likewise a form of virtue signaling, provided the right villain is chosen.
    Additionally corporations are much more prone to leftist causes and virtue signaling because the Left is much more efficient and effective at creating a social media sh*t storm when it feels antagonized. Thus politically correct virtue signaling serves as a form of insurance. When the revelations about Harvey Weinstein first came to light, he offered to put the NRA in his crosshairs as a way to appease the growing mob.

    Matthew 23:5, 6 &12 NLT
    “Everything they do is for show. On their arms they wear extra wide prayer boxes with Scripture verses inside, and they wear robes with extra long tassels. 6 And they love to sit at the head table at banquets and in the seats of honor in the synagogues.”
    “12 But those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

    Matthew 6:2 having already been quoted above.

  21. This seems a very important article. The idea of virtue as marketable is fascinating, and makes me think of indulgences sold by the Catholic Church. For those of us who cannot afford to make large, public donations, virtue can be bought far more cheaply via the currency of verbal and written expression. I wonder if opposition toward/hatred of Donald Trump is currently the best bang for the metaphorical buck in the realm of virtue signaling. Think about how USEFUL Trump has been to anyone wishing to easily and cheaply ascend the virtue ladder! I wonder his value in this sense has been driven up by some sort of social process, the way a stock’s value increases with greater demand. I mean, if the mainstream media had not decided to go full-on anti-Trump, he would not be viewed as unfavorably as he is, and therefore would be of less effectiveness to the anti-Trump virtue signaler.

    Put another way, supporting the Democratic candidate in 2020 might be an unprecedented virtue-signaling bonanza.

  22. Mark Beal says

    “A study on corporate social responsibility found that 87 percent of study respondents reported “they would buy a product because of something the company advocated.” However, if the company advocates (signals) the wrong cause, 76 percent said they would boycott the product.”

    Yes, but what people say in surveys isn’t necessarily anywhere near how they actually behave.

    That said, I imagine that SJW-types are more likely to vocally engage in this kind of behaviour, which becomes a problem, because it leads companies, NGO’s and the like to believe that these very vocal people constitute a majority, thus entrenching the preferred narrative of the SJW-types.

    The main takeaway from this article for me was precisely the issue of narrative, and how it has become virtually impossible to contradict the woman as oppressed/men as oppressors narrative, even when facts contradict it. I wish I had an effective solution for how to replace this narrative with a truer one, but I don’t. I also wish I had the time to actively write to companies and tell them that, thanks to their virtue signalling, I will not be purchasing their goods or services for the forseeable future, but there are so many of them and life’s too short. Besides, it seems kind of pointless if it’s not part of some concerted campaign.

    I remember reading about the Amnesty report. It killed whatever lingering respect I had for them stone dead.

  23. Daniel says

    This article mentions “problematic and abusive tweets” a few times. But what defines “problematic?” It could be anything that one finds disagreeable.

  24. david of Kirkland says

    Giving to a good cause is virtuous, whether a signal is sent and/or received or not.
    A college degree is closer to signaling, since you can learn without college and you can go to college without learning. But a donation is received and useful regardless of the motivation of the giver.

  25. Farris says

    @david of Kirkland

    “Giving to a good cause is virtuous, whether a signal is sent and/or received or not.”

    So virtue can be purchased? The Stoics believed that virtue is its own reward.
    “Julia Annas sums up the Stoic attitude toward virtue and tranquillity in her scholarly analysis of Hellenistic philosophies, The Morality of Happiness,
    If we are tempted to seek virtue because it will make us tranquil and secure, we are missing the point about virtue that is most important [according to the Stoics]; it is virtue itself that matters, not its results. (Annas, p. 410)”

    Spinoza and Kant held similar views.

  26. Anonymous Coward says

    I remember the Pew research when it came out, it also was hardly the time compared to other research about social media. This research is also far from the only stuff that has been distorted to suit a campaigning charity’s cause, and most media will never bother to check it never mind challenge it.

  27. V 2.0 says

    When an organization like Amnesty International takes the time and resources meant to help people actually being imprisoned and/or tortured and uses them to whine about mean things said on the internet it’s time to reconsider its usefulness.

    • Lightning Rose says

      Just like the “environmental” NGO’s, the bar has been lowered quite a bit, because the real problems they organized to fight were by and large cleaned up long ago. From torture to “mean tweets?” Sounds like it’s defunding time for Amnesty International!

  28. Blasè says

    Brilliant piece. Well articulated summary of my instincts around all of this. Makes sense when you hear that most donations for charities go towards marketing campaigns and gurus.
    I used to work for a billionaire with his name on the Guggenheim museum rotunda (signal of all signals) , who had extravagant fundraising parties with huge bands and celebs.
    Also loved the point about strange bedfellows. I often feel the virtue signallers want to support every move despite their contradictions ie. Feminism & Islam, Colin Kaepernick & Nike etc
    It’s damn naive & hypocritical.

  29. Yet another organisation/company that only cares about abuse (or anything bad) when it happens to women.

    I’d like to say I’m shocked, but at this stage I expect this discrimination against men. It’s the same argument about murder: Men are more likely to be killed than women, yet we never stop taking about murder when a single woman is murdered. This plays over and over again in Melbourne.

    A man murdered? Nothing. A woman? QUICK! Change the laws. ALL MEN ARE TO BLAME.

  30. Adrian Lewis says

    Signaling theory is good to know, but it’s also good to remember what David Hume once said:

    “There is a principle, supposed to prevail among many, which is utterly incompatible with all virtue or moral sentiment; and as it can proceed from nothing but the most depraved disposition, so in its turn it tends still further to encourage that depravity. This principle is, that all benevolence is mere hypocrisy, friendship a cheat, public spirit a farce, fidelity a snare to procure trust and confidence; and that while all of us, at bottom, pursue only our private interest, we wear these fair disguises, in order to put others off their guard, and expose them the more to our wiles and machination.”

  31. The virtue signaling involved in much of today’s charitable giving is only a more baroque manifestation of alms giving which appears with the Industrial Revolution. In Alexis de Tocqueville’s little read 1835 Memoir on Pauperism he notes that the proliferation of charitable societies which receive much of their monies from givers disassociated from recievers. For Tocqueville this was a kind of perversion of the very word charity. True charity for Tocqueville necessitates a direct connection between the giver and receiver.

    “ Individual alms-giving established valuable ties between the rich and the poor. The deed itself
    involves the giver in the fate of the one whose poverty he has undertaken to alleviate. The latter,
    supported by aid which he had no right to demand and which he had no hope to getting, feels
    inspired by gratitude. A moral tie is established between those two classes whose interests and
    passions so often conspire to separate them from each other, and although divided by
    circumstance they are willingly reconciled.”

    I’d be curious what Tocqueville would make of these disassociated givers to further extract the even more disassociated social benefit of virtue signaling

  32. SCOTT CROWE says

    Classic meteor strikes earth, women most affected. Remember in the last Australian Federal election, of the top 20 most abused politicians on twitter, zero were women.

  33. The only way a person can know the sex of someone else online is if that person posts that, their photo, their name, etc. Want to avoid sexual harassment? Don’t call attention to the fact you are female. However some women feed off of attention they receive being young and attractive and female and only resent when they are not getting the kind of attention they want from others.

    For that matter, there is no way of knowing when the harassers are male, or other women using masculine or gender-neutral accounts. Women who don’t post in-your-face opinionated idiocy also experience far less ‘abuse’. Funny that.

  34. Steve says

    “When we evaluate our friends, we don’t just measure the consequences of their lives. We measure who they intrinsically are. We don’t merely want to know if they have done good. We want to know if they are good.” David Brooks. Ah, David….what a douche.

  35. Morgan Foster says


    Suzie Mulesky, just before she uses that lift-quote from David Brooks, wrote:

    “David Brooks, in his criticism of the “earning to give” strategy (in which somebody earns a high-paying salary in order to donate much of it to charity), unintentionally makes the case for the signaling theory of altruism.”

    I don’t agree that that is what Brooks was doing, even unintentionally. Toward the end of Brooks’ piece he writes:

    “Taking a job just to make money, on the other hand, is probably going to be corrosive, even if you use the money for charity rather than sports cars. … I’d think you would be more likely to cultivate a deep soul if you put yourself in the middle of the things that engaged you most seriously. If your profoundest interest is dying children in Africa or Bangladesh, it’s probably best to go to Africa or Bangladesh, not to Wall Street.”

    I don’t see that as making “the case for the signaling theory of altruism.”

    • @Morgan, the quote you provide demonstrates that what Brooks believes is important when evaluating the earning-to-give strategy is the *person*, not the *outcomes* of the person’s behavior. His emphasis is on “cultivating a deep soul,” not being cost-effective with charity dollars.

      Brooks’ essay is an example of somebody judging the character of the individual and downplaying or ignoring the consequences of the person’s behavior. This is core to the signaling theory of altruism. We generally evaluate each other’s moral character based on our actions, not the outcomes of our actions.

  36. TheSnark says

    Some random thoughts:

    (1) Twitter, as its name implies, is for twits.

    (2) Many large NGO’s are primarily interested in maintaining their donor base? Well, duh. That’s been obvious for a long time. For far too many of the most famous ones, any good they do for their cause has become incidental to the organization’s drive for self-perpetuation. Working on causes that “sell well” is more important than if the cause is the best way, or even a good way, to advance their mission or not.

    (3) That large corporates do that, too, is also hardly a surprise. Selling, generating revenue (rather than contributions) is what matters. Virtue signalling is part of their marketing mix, and they will happily do it no matter what the rest of the organization is up to. Smaller companies often do live their ideals, but it is rare to find a big one that pays their official ideals more than lip service.

    • @TheSnark, while it may be obvious that NGOs are primarily interested in maintaining their donor base, it’s not always obvious what exactly this means. For example, some academics have assumed this means the NGO will be financially incentivized to be as effective as possible because that’s why donors give money. As my work argues, this isn’t true. It’s this last part that’s surprising to many NGO scholars (and to myself when I first started researching donor motivations).

      • Chuck Berger says

        It’s not at all “obvious” that NGOs are “primarily” interested in maintaining their donor base. Having worked in a range of NGO, I can say that all of them were interested in maintaining their donor base, but I don’t think it can be said that this was their “primary” motivation. (Or to be more precise, since organisations don’t have motivations – the many and varied motivations of the staff, Board members, volunteers, donors, etc.)

        I currently work for a community legal centre. The primary motivation of our staff, on a day-to-day basis, is to deliver a good service to our clients.

        Nor do I think virtue signalling is a primary motivation of our donors, for the simple reason that most people will never know about their $20/month donations. It’s not typically the sort of thing people broadcast. And your data on the small rate of anonymous donations isn’t the full picture – you actually have to really go out of your way to formally donate “anonymously”. Most people give their credit card details, which means the donation isn’t “anonymous” (we know who they are), but in practice many of these donors are anonymous in the sense that their circle of friends, family and acquaintances will never know their donation patterns.

  37. Good essay. I can’t help thinking, however, that competitive displays of conspicuous virtue are better than many other forms of status competition, even if there are very mixed motives and hypocrisy.

    Only saints and madmen have pure motives.

    • Yep libraries art galleries named buildings schools public broadcasting big bird etc etc reliant and accepting no matter the bent back backstories so it goes

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  39. Carolyn Field says

    “But virtue is precisely what you don’t advertise. It is not an investment strategy. It is not a cost-cutting scheme. It is not a book selling (and worse, concert tickets selling) strategy.”
    “The best virtue requires courage; accordingly it needs to be unpopular.”
    Nassim Nicholas Taleb – The Incerto, “The Merchandising of Virtue”

    I can’t say it any better than Taleb, who, BTW, picks fights on Twitter with virtue signalers.

  40. Indie wifey says

    Can twitter etc harassment issues (also maybe simply) be connected to who all has the most free time on their thumbs, then add to the equation, who (believes he/she) has a bone to pick – no matter how valid or not – who then chooses to vent via social media aka ez/anonymously/faceless/generalized targeting? Circle back to that free time component, include no job to part time to dispensable-time-including job/career. The collective voice of social media skews to free time

  41. Chuck Berger says

    I think there is a basic logical fallacy here. There is a huge difference between saying “virtue signalling” is a part of our “moral decision-making” (which I’m perfectly prepared to accept), and saying that nearly all of our moral decisions are entirely a matter of “virtue signalling”.

    Human decision-making is complex, and seldom driven by one overriding factor which can be clinically isolated and defined in this way. Our decisions are driven by multiple considerations, some conscious, some subconscious. The fact that virtue signalling is a thing, does not mean than genuine moral reasoning is not also a thing.

    About two decades ago, I abandoned a lucrative and successful career as a young corporate lawyer, to become a lawyer for the environment movement. I took a large pay cut by doing so. I did so for many reasons – some of them self-interested (seeking greater job satisfaction), others altruistic (a genuine belief on my part that environmental protection is intrinsically worthy, and also important for current and future generations of humans.)

    I’m willing to consider the possibility that virtue signalling was part of my story – that as an environmental campaigner, I would be more interesting to others. But I’m not willing to concede that my “altruistic” reasons were nothing but a fig leaf.

    Sorry, that just smacks too much of “false consciousness” reasoning, which is impossible to rebut.

    It is possible to actually care about something.

    • I’m not arguing that all of our moral decisions are entirely a matter of signaling. Right now, in my field, signaling isn’t factored at all in NGO research. I’m trying to convince NGO researchers that signaling is a relevant factor, it accounts for more than 0% of donor decision-making. I agree that human decision-making is complex. I’m arguing for an additional element to the complexity via signaling. Hidden-motive signaling becomes important when it can explain outcomes that are not consistent with any other theory of NGO behavior (which is what my dissertation research addresses).

      If I can convince people that signaling motives are relevant in their own decision-making, then I’m happy with that. My argument doesn’t rely on on it being the only factor. For that, I’m happy to see that you’re willing to consider the relevance of signaling motives in some of your decisions. However, it’s also the case that because motives are hidden, introspection alone will never be able to identify the underlying motives of some of our behavior, especially with regard to altruism. When I hear personal testimony about pure or genuine motives, I have to put that statement against the backdrop of everything I know about hidden motives, self-deception, signaling, and conspicuous altruism. As a general rule of thumb, I don’t take introspective statements like these at face-value. Nor should any social scientist.

      I don’t think your concerns of false consciousness are warranted here, though it’s always important to keep falsifiability in mind. There’s a science of self-deception, with biologists and psychologists working out the empirical basis of our mental architecture’s self-deceptive mechanisms and the evolutionary basis for self-deception. While some theories of hidden motives may be false, citing false consciousness isn’t an argument against this theory. If you’re interested in what I mean by the “science of self-deception,” here are some important references.

      [1] von Hippel, W. and Trivers, R. 2011. “The Evolution and Psychology of Self-deception.” Behavioral and Brain Sciences. 34(1): 1-16.
      [2] von Hippel, W. and Trivers, R. 2011. “Reflections on Self-deception.” Behavioral and Brain Sciences. 34(1): 41-56.
      [3] Lu, Hui-Jing. 2012. “Self-deception: Deceiving yourself to better deceive others.” Acta Psychologica Sinica. 44(9): 1265-1278.
      [4] Trivers, Robert. 2011. The Folly of Fools: The Logic of Deceit and Self-Deception in Human Life.

  42. Fredx Forthrightx says

    Latinx? Not a word in common usage I would think. And pronunciation? Presumably Latincks, unless we have acquired a whole new orthography

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  44. Sander Malschaert says

    Interesting read. It brings up more questions for me though. Has anybody looked at the other side of the toxic twitter experience? Who is doing all the harrasing online? I would like to see that looked at and broken down by category.

  45. Conspicuous compassion is my term for this : the mirror image of virtue signalling .

    • Vertice Montis says

      Apparently there’s some controversy as to whether “Latinx” should rhyme with “Kleenex” or “stinks.” Either way it’s less entertainingly social-media-ish than “Latin@”

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  47. Vertice Montis says

    “… less than 10 percent were anonymous. If people donate to charity, in large part to receive status benefits, it makes sense that few people donate anonymously.”

    Hmm, did I just hear millions of Americans shout, “It also makes sense to get a personalized thank you letter as proof of your itemized federal income tax deductions!” ?

    • You can donate “anonymously” while still providing payment information. It’s this payment receipt that’s relevant for the IRS. However, itemizing deductions may not be as common as you might think. While this is somewhat difficult to measure, one way is to calculate the % of people who donate based on personal income tax returns and compare that number to the % of people who donate according to donor surveys. There appears to be a gap. For example, in the U.S., according to IRS data, only 24.5% of tax filers made a donation in 2015, compared to 56% based on survey data. I understand this gap may be caused by other factors, e.g. inflation in self-reported data.

      Also, even in public goods experiments, people rarely donate anonymously. See Andreoni and Petrie (2004):

    • Reyos Blackwood says

      Anonymous donations don’t mean you don’t get a tax receipt though, the anonymity comes from the publicity on the end of the charity.

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