Too many people are getting outraged too often and turning social media into a cesspit of ill-feeling to little, and sometimes counter-productive, effect. So says Ashley “Dotty” Charles, the BBC Radio 1Xtra Breakfast Show host and rap MC, in a book in which she laments all the “raging”, “cancelling” and “online dragging” taking place.
She warns that while it might make those responsible look virtuous it’s frequently spiteful and intolerant. Worse still, it regularly fails to achieve much of substance.
As Charles puts it, plenty of people are playing the “sport of outrage” but who is keeping score? That is what she tries to do in a jaunty account that makes many worthwhile points, while falling short of offering fresh insights.
Charles highlights the case of Rachel Dolezal, a “trans-racial” former Black Lives Matters activist who was traduced and left impoverished after it emerged that she had “pulled off a cultural heist by pretending to be black” when she is, in fact, white.
The author points out that this diverted attention from the far greater injustices perpetrated by “homicidal police officers” in the US against black people. Other targets are “hashtag activism” and “retweet culture”. The author suggests the latter is a modern-day version of mob rule, in which people follow the crowd in a new “era of coercion”.
Negative consequences of online fury include the publicity given to “outrage-mongers” who rely on generating a response to promote their own profiles. Charles cites Katie Hopkins and Piers Morgan as examples. Her main gripe, however, is that sounding off on social media dilutes focus on what matters and is often a substitute for action that will achieve actual change.
Clicktivism, as she describes it, “wants to be activism but just can’t be arsed” — with its warriors no longer the “tireless protesters of America’s Deep South” but instead the “snowflakes of Twitter setting the world bang-to-rights with their unlimited data plans”. It’s a powerful, though familiar, charge and Charles, who wrote the book before the protests over the death of George Floyd, would doubtless approve of seeing people taking to the streets.
Less impressive is her sympathy for advertising boycotts of media whose content she deems hateful. It feels like an attempt at backdoor censorship via corporations. Nonetheless, if her plea for people to turn down the heat, except when it matters most, is heeded, then Charles will have given valuable service in helping to improve public discourse.
Outraged: Why Everyone is Shouting and No One is Talking by Ashley “Dotty” Charles (Bloomsbury, £14.99), buy it here.