Signaling compassion

An unpopular opinion about social media behavior

Signaling compassion

This post is going to go into why I personally do not particularly like those well meant but worthless support posts in times of crisis.

What’s the matter?

Let’s define what a “support post” is, before going into why they potentially do more harm than good in some cases.

We will go with a simple definition and handle edge-cases later, here it goes:

A “support post” is any publication on social media or other channels with the core intent of showing that the poster cares about the issue using token-type actions that has zero impact potential.

Definition: “Impact potential”

My definition above mostly focuses on the idea that an action with no “impact potential” is worthless and shouldn’t be done. But what exactly is that supposed to mean? Heres a definition that tries to define it as simple as possible:

The “Impact potential” of an action (such as posting on social media or any other public display of intent) tries to measure the ability (“potential”) of the given action to unfold the intended effect (aka: “having an impact”). This could be anything from getting someone to donate, generating interactions with an idea or anything else the creator wants to happen.

We can measure this value by taking a few factors into account:

  • Where the action is performed (if more people see it you get more chances to land)
  • What is the scale of this operation (is it just some quiet corner or the spiritual main act on Times square)
  • How many people actually witness said action (screaming into the void is worth nothing after all)
  • The CTR-equivalent of how many people that gets to think about the goal (do they just pass by or do they engage)
  • The cost of setting up or sustaining public visibility (just like with any ad, the more bang/buck the better)

All of these factors more or less boil down to how many people you can expose to your message and how great your conversions are, it’s almost as if social-media is just advertizement but for a particular person or idea, not a brand (we call social-media optimizations and stuff “personal branding” for a reason).

Ok… what’s your problem now?

370 Words in we end the prologue and get to the reason I am writing about this: We have to talk about the war in ukraine and the reactions that this blatant display of war-crimes from russia has provoked on social media.

Some examples

Below you can find a few examples of images posted to Reddit to show support to the ukrainian population:

Image of putin with text 'fuck putin' Source: A rucksack with yellow and blue bands on it Source: A DHL delivery van with Putin go fuck yourself in russian written on it's back window Source: A person putting up ukraine flags on a house Source:

A gaming keyboard in ukraine colors Source:

Where is the problem with being nice?

I don’t have a problem with being nice. I don’t want to say that these actions are “evil” or anything like it. I’d like to explain why they, although meant to help, in fact do not and a worst reduce actual help delivered.

A conjecture

My problems with flying the flags of Ukraine in ones profile picture or anywhere else small lies with the moral-licensing effect (an effect that describes the behavioral bias in which we justify to ourselves to not do something good or even do something bad, because we already did something we perceived as good earlier). I conjecture that for many people the act of posting a #standWithUkraine or writing “fuck putin” on their car fulfils the precondition of the stated effect and therefore subconsciously keeps them from doing something that actually helps, like donating to the Red cross or other humanitarian organizations.

So here is the actual issue I see here and the point we come full circle: The fact that people do some small and often meaningless gestures (sometimes visible to only themselves, see the last image example) with no impact potential that keeps them from doing anything actually valuable or productive towards their goal of helping ukraine win a war.


I don’t want to attack anyone that creates support posts, far from it. But I am worried about unfulfillable expectations of results or scope and unintended negative side effects that come with well meaning and possible personally therapeutic (makes you feel like you can actually do something) postings with nar-zero “actual impact”.