Outraged by Ashely 'Dotty' Charles

Anybody who has ever engaged with social media activism, become enraged after reading a snippet of information online, or simply has a social media account, should read this book. Ashley ‘Dotty’ Charles is best known for her time as a UK radio broadcaster for BBC 1Extra, who wrote a viral article titled ‘As a black, gay woman I have to be selective in my outrage. So should you.’ Published by the Guardian in January 2018, about the viral backlash against an H&M campaign that depicted a black child in a hoody with ‘coolest monkey in the jungle’ written across the top. Her point was that the outrage was completely misdirected towards boycotting the brand instead of asking the important questions like ‘why was no one in the room making these decisions of colour?’ Charles is here to tell us that “We don’t need to care less; we just need to care better.” And she couldn’t be more right. This book has completely changed the way I interact with online outrage and it is 100% for the better.

Explored through case studies such as the failed H&M campaign, Rachel Dolezal, a white woman who claimed she was black, to controversial media personality Katie Hopkins. Charles takes a full circle research approach to the questions she is raising and also admits ‘it’s okay to sit on the fence’. We don’t need to have an opinion about everything. Written largely in interview format, this book is like a written documentary, and reminded me very much of Louis Theroux’s ‘open to anything’ interview style. If you want a taste of what this book is about before committing then I highly recommend Pandora Sykes interview with Charles on her podcast ‘Doing It Right’ or reading the full Guardian article available online.

Charles doesn’t hold back in her very witty, funny and clever opinions. You will likely feel uncomfortable at times, as you will undoubtedly be called out for online behaivour you’ve participated in at some stage. Such as the well known jumping on the bandwagon of the latest outrage or as Charles puts it: “Introducing clicktivism: it wants to be activism, but it just can’t be arsed.” Please, don’t let this put you off reading the book, Charles calls out her own online behaviour along the way too, so at least you know you’re in it together. And it is well worth the read for Charles’s points on where you can better direct your outrage and anger in much more humane, and helpful, ways that can make real change. Yes cancel culture, I’m talking about you. “Shame a racist in person and you can ruin him for a day, but shame him online and you can dine out on it for life.”

And while Charles admits that online activism has undoubtedly brought about some very powerful changes, it has however become constant and quite honestly exhausting as “Thanks to the Internet we can now virtue signal at fiber optic speeds, disguising your ostentatious self-regard with politically charged posts, constructing saintly versions of ourselves that in reality exist solely online.” And to ensure online activism holds its powers it needs to be used mindfully, not mindlessly, in an effort to stop exhausting ourselves on small grievances in lieu of the real issues. And also not unreasonably Charles asks that we fact check our outrage, read more than one article before assuming our individual stance, and don’t get caught up in the headline of biased media outlets, the caption of a Instagram or a fifteen word tweet.

Charles also correctly points out that our online engagement is a choice. Would the online villains like Katie Hopkins even exist if we stopped giving them so much airtime with our own outrage? While at the same time we choose who we follow, creating what appears like mob outrage on our own social media through an echo chamber of our own creation that contributes to a “heavily curated online experience, reflecting our own likes, morals and belief systems back at us.” Giving the feeling that the whole world is just as outraged as you, when reality is in fact something else.

Need I really go on anymore? Clearly this book is great. I had some pretty strong opinions on social media going in and this book really helped me to line them up and mull them over further. It has completely changed the way I interact online, and given me the confidence to know that it is okay to not comment on everything, it doesn’t mean you don’t care.

Grab your copy here

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