Ukraine: Rather Than Virtue Signal on Social Media, Let’s Educate Ourselves


Graphic by Rachel Lichtenwalner

With the war in Ukraine, people’s virtue signaling on social media turns the crisis into a form of entertainment. Additionally, people should be getting their news from credible sources, not from Instagram posts or TikTok videos.

Grace Muskovitz, Staff Writer

History repeats itself, especially online.  

In 2020, during the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, seas of black squares flooded Instagram, indicating that their poster is a “good person” for caring about current issues. 

Since Russia declared war on Ukraine on Feb. 21, social media has again become a festering trench of performative activism and virtue signaling. 

Virtue signaling is the action of publicly expressing opinions with the goal of demonstrating the quality of one’s character rather than disseminating credible information, and it is an epidemic among adolescents on social media. 

When opening Instagram or TikTok, one is catapulted into an abyss of Ukrainian flags. 

While I understand some people truly care about what’s going on, it’s evident to me that people have no idea how they are misusing their power and how their posts don’t help, either. 

Think of it this way: Russian civilians protesting the war in Moscow and St. Petersburg are being detained, their voices silenced. President Vladimir Putin will not be persuaded to withdraw troops because Makaleigh from Alpharetta, GA said so.  

It seems to me people are treating Ukraine like another trend to put their “wokeness” on display, with no regard for the people personally suffering in this war.  

Even I fell victim to this trap. In 2020, I touted my Instagram story as being a legitimate news source. It wasn’t until later that I realized virtue signaling overshadowed sources that were helpful. 

My Ukrainian dedushka—which is Russian for “grandfather”—fled to Russia as a child. His family was starving to the point where he was given cigarettes at five years old to take his mind off the hunger. 

Flash forward to 2022. He is in Moscow, unable to leave despite his illnesses. Even my Russian mother is unable to see him. As for me, I might never see my grandfather again. 

To add insult to injury, my family’s calls to Russia were blocked for the last week.  

In fact, my grandfather urges us not to come to Russia, warning that people are fleeing to other countries to escape what they fear will be an economic collapse. This situation is eerily similar to the events following the fall of the Soviet Union in the 1990s, when my parents left Russia.  

My other family members, Ukrainian and Russian alike, must fight each other. They must fight against people who have always loved and supported them as Slavs.  

After all, Russians and Ukrainians have a shared history, which is a sentiment echoed heavily by Putin. And while that is true, Russia and Ukraine have separate, sovereign governments.  

And while Russia’s leadership rejects this fact, most Russian civilians accept it.  

In a Russian interview over the phone, my 19-year-old cousin, Gavril Babenko from Odessa, Ukraine said he feels “hopeless in this situation.”  

Odessa, a valuable port city in the south of Ukraine, has been a target of the Russian invasion, causing residents to flee except for men ages 18-60, who are required to stay in Ukraine to fight.  

“I don’t even know if it was preventable. Nothing has been certain since 2014,” Babenko said when we last spoke two weeks ago.  

The uncertainty and anguish over the war is not unique to people in Russia and Ukraine.  

“No one wants war. It’s all the higher ups,” said Russian senior Oleg Kolesnikov. 

Americans’ Instagram stories won’t stop Russia from firing missiles at Holocaust memorial sites and daycares. They won’t stop the sanctions on Russia from having a devastating impact on innocent civilians who want nothing but peace. They won’t make change. 

Promoting videos that “explain the conflict in under 60 seconds” or advocate for random, unverified charities is only causing more harm than good. It takes away from the real issue at hand to communicate, “Hey, I have such a great moral compass!”  

While I wish people could take an active role in this issue by protesting or donating, for now doing so isn’t plausible, more so for Ukrainians and Russians than for anyone else. 

For now, my advice for fellow bystanders is to do your own research — and not from social media. Credible sources such as the New York Times chronicle daily developments in Europe and offer detailed reports on the war.  

Some reputable charities to donate to include UNICEF USA and the International Medical Corps, which both offer medical and humanitarian aid to Ukrainian civilians.  

Learning about the nuance and complexity of this issue in a more in-depth format is better than a 10-part Instagram post.