B. D. McClay in The Hedgehog Review:
Virtue signaling” is the newest online diagnosis of why other people do the things they do. Like “trigger warning,” it’s a term that has enabled an endless, circular conversation: People who delight in sniffing out hypocrisy always have plausible reasons to accuse people of doing things merely because they want to be thought good people; those who resent the accusation will accuse the accusers of engineering the “debasement of kindness, of empathy and of love,” as one writer in The New Statesman asserted. But before there was “virtue signaling,” there was just “signaling”—no virtue implied.
For certain online critics, everything was signaling: your politics, your taste, your friends. “Neo-reactionaries”—disgruntled souls who seemed to aspire to a kind of racist techno-utopian feudalism—viewed the larger culture as a tangle of signals directed to “the educational organs, at whose head is the press and universities” (as the blogger Mencius Moldbug described it), otherwise known as “the Cathedral.” The Cathedral controls you, but you don’t know it; that’s just how insidious it is. In a post defining this and other terms, Moldbug stated that the goal of neoreaction was to “cure your brain.”
While neo-reaction has largely collapsed, its adherents were not the only people to fixate on social performativity.