How can we make trigger and/or content warnings useful? November 8, 2014 7:16 PM   Subscribe

People who find trigger and content warnings helpful: what makes a good warning, and how can we format those better?

So I saw a comment recently* that did a weird method of trigger warning-- they left it in a sort of footnote with an ampersand-- and I thought, well, that's probably not super helpful, because most people read footnotes last. But then I realized that it's entirely possible that most people DON'T do it that way, and maybe I just read weird, and I thought, well, I've seen lots of different communities format trigger warnings in a lot of different ways, and it'd be nice to know how to do that well here on MetaFilter.

I know there was a MeTa about this back in 2012, but it doesn't have anything I found super useful for thinking about this, partially because a lot of the actual conversation got really lost in people making jokes about trigger/content warnings and/or questioning the validity of the concept in general, which isn't really helpful.

Basically I am wondering if there might be some kind of community consensus like the one about how it's uncouth to write comments that start with "@user:", or at least some suggestions, for the following questions:
  • What specific phrasings or methods of tagging are useful for avoiding or preparing for potentially triggering content? I have a bit of usability background, so I'm used to "rules for writing for web" that makes content easy to skim to find information you're looking for on a screen, so I'm thinking of it that way: do you skim for "TW"/"CW"? I know that there has been some talk about how putting a warning on something that obviously has triggers in it, so tagging a post that is obviously, say, a video about spiders with "tw: spiders" is redundant, but it is also possible that someone who clicks on links without reading closely might notice that in a scan, so I'm hesitant to say "don't use redundant warnings". If you do scan for this kind of warning, do jokey tws/cws ("tw: adorable babies" etc) interfere with that?
  • Do people use post tags for filtering for triggers? Is it more useful to put warnings in a specific format? Is smalltext useful? Will you not see warnings in titles?
  • What about in comments? How can we helpfully warn for triggers in them?
  • What should we tag for that we aren't? The Big Things That People Tend To Have PTSD From (abuse, violence, war, etc) tend to be pretty well known, I think, and I think we tend to tag for or at least mention standard phobias, but is there something we miss?
  • Is there anything we can just steal and repurpose from community etiquette about spoilers?
  • Are there technological tools for this? I'm used to tumblr, where a lot of people use plugins to filter certain tags from their dashboard for all sorts of reasons, including triggers, spoilers, not caring about the subject matter, etc, so people tend to tag stuff in a way so people using such unofficial add-ons can avoid content they don't want. Are mefites doing this, either with post tags or something else, and if you are, are there any ways we can make that more useful? (And if this doesn't exist, does anyone want to make a greasemonkey script that autohides anything tagged with user-imputed keywords? Would that even help anybody?)
I've generally found comment threads super helpful for being able to ask, say, "I want to watch this but I am afraid there will be ______, is it safe for me", so I think the community on the whole tends to want to do this stuff well. I'm just hoping we can talk about what works and what doesn't for people without having a referendum on the concept of trigger warnings/content warnings in general or a focus on what a specific post or user did or didn't do wrong. Obviously, none of this is gonna be set in stone/enforced policy, but MeFi tends to have a solid enough community that informal guideline discussions actually, you know, guide stuff, so it seems like hashing it out a bit might be good.

*I'm not gonna link to it because I really don't want this to turn into a callout thread about the particular comment; it was obviously well intentioned and the warning itself was probably redundant anyway.
posted by NoraReed to Etiquette/Policy at 7:16 PM (75 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

they left it in a sort of footnote with an ampersand

I understand that you don't want to link to the comment, but just to be clear, are you saying that it looked like this:

Stuff stuff stuff stuff

&Trigger warning: stuff

Like that? Because I can see how that may not be so helpful, and why there may be a need for a better method, presuming that I am understanding the situation correctly.

Personally, I usually read the footnote first, so that when I encounter the reference in the text, I have already preallocated the noted information. Comments just flow better for me that way, though I'm not sure if anyone else does this.
posted by Shouraku at 7:25 PM on November 8, 2014


Uhhh, I meant asterisk. Like this*. The comment was several paragraphs long and included a link to a webpage that had potentially triggering comment; it was not a trigger on the content of the comment itself but of potentially triggering content on the linked site.

*Trigger warning: this is a dummy trigger warning for a dummy link
posted by NoraReed at 7:30 PM on November 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


and/or questioning the validity of the concept in general, which isn't really helpful.

Anything that recoils from scrutiny demands scrutiny.
posted by four panels at 7:33 PM on November 8, 2014 [5 favorites]


I don't know that I think that the world can be made totally safe for me and my personal hangups, but I used to (and sometimes still do) encounter eating disorder triggers on a fairly regular basis. I can't think of a good metafilter-related example, but I recently took the online alcohol-awareness training that my university requires of all incoming students, and after asking me how much I drank a week, they helpfully calculated how many calories a year I am consuming in alcohol and how many pounds that translates into. Ooof. I need some warning if you're going to spring calorie and weight numbers on me.

The thing is, I don't think that people here are going to be convinced to put in trigger warnings for weight and calorie-related posts, so I think it's just going to be a case of caveat lector.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 7:35 PM on November 8, 2014 [9 favorites]



The thing is, I don't think that people here are going to be convinced to put in trigger warnings for weight and calorie-related posts, so I think it's just going to be a case of caveat lector.


On the other hand, there was a FFP about a the daughter of a serial killer, and the linked article happened to contain rather detailed anecdotes about animal abuse. Stuff like that, or about sexual abuse, etc. I can see being a concern.

I agree with NoraReed that some type of standardized warning about such things would be helpful.
posted by Shouraku at 7:40 PM on November 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


Well, yeah, it works a lot better inline than a footnote, and the user probably should have just said something something link (trigger warning: rough stuff) blah blah blah instead.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 7:45 PM on November 8, 2014


In case it's useful for the discussion, the current line on this is here in the FAQ: what's the etiquette on trigger warnings? The entry on spoilers is just above that.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 8:05 PM on November 8, 2014 [2 favorites]


My Mefi Is a part of the site that can be used to filter posts based on tags. It is useful, but not that great since people do not use tags in a consistent, predictable way.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 8:14 PM on November 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


If the trigger warnings aren't above the [more inside] then I probably won't see them until it's too late.

Personally, the only thing I really "need" trigger warnings for is animal abuse of cats, dogs, etc. because those stories will completely ruin my whole day and thus I prefer not to read posts about that until the end of the day when crying myself to sleep is less of a disruption.

(I don't know why animal abuse bothers me more than child abuse -- probably because I can relate to the victim in many child abuse stories and hey I survived my experiences whereas animals don't and will never have the cognitive power or legal agency to escape their situations? I dunno.)
posted by Jacqueline at 8:41 PM on November 8, 2014 [5 favorites]


On MetaFilter if I am linking to content that may be disturbing, I usually put with the link: (eg, some people may find this content disturbing).

I try to make it obvious. I don't see why there should be an actual rule though.

On the other hand, while MetaFilter is an inclusive place, it's pretty unreasonable to expect that MetaFilter will be "safe" for all of the people, all of the time.

MetaFilter includes links to a variety of places on the Internet, so, while certain courtesies (eg, as outlined above) should be part of the culture, as internet users we also have to exercise some responsibility when clicking on links here. MetaFilter is what it is.
posted by Nevin at 9:00 PM on November 8, 2014 [6 favorites]



A simple TW:abuse for example in posts and questions above the fold is where I think this site seems to be leaning. I have noticed it has become more and more common lately which I really appreciate.

metafilter isn't a safe space and after a recent thread i got strongly reminded of that but I do appreciate the upswing in TW being used.

I wonder if that's due to the popularity of Tumblr and such.
posted by kanata at 9:18 PM on November 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


Oh and joking ones don't bother me. They amuse me and make me laugh. My vote is just a simple (tw:abuse) because that seems standard around the net.

I spend time on a sexual abuse/child sexual abuse site and that is the standard there.
posted by kanata at 9:21 PM on November 8, 2014


I know this is a bit off-topic, but it seems related... The NSFW warnings - it'd be awesome if people explained why they were NSFW (extreme violence, nudity, profanity, etc). While I'm not at work when I read the blue, there are a lot of things I just don't need to see (I don't need/want trigger warnings, but the NSFW is a milder version of these for me).

There is a bunch of content that may not be triggering for most/all people, but it'd be awesome if there were some indications to avoid it. For example, there was recently an arty project vimeo film that contained some homophobic stuff as well as depictions of violence against women - it might not have been triggering, but the NSFW tag wasn't enough to keep me away (I wish I had stayed away).
posted by el io at 10:27 PM on November 8, 2014 [2 favorites]


My rule of thumb is that if the 6 o'clock news would warn that the following story may be upsetting to sensitive viewers or contain material inappropriate for children, I will flag that in my post, but usually in a more newspapery, less tumblry way, for lo I am old.

I usually put in parentheses in bold after a link a brief description of what the link contains that may be concerning. I don't usually say "warning" because its more like providing you with appropriate information to make a decision than warning you off. I do appreciate when people are clear about what potentially problematic material we're facing -- "Link contains graphic descriptions of animal abuse" no thank you; "Link contains medical nudity" thanks for the heads up in case my workplace filter is hyperactive; "link contains pictures of funerary customs including dead bodies" oh, interesting, I will look when my kids aren't in the room!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:06 PM on November 8, 2014 [17 favorites]


I'm a fan of inline (tw:[warning]) myself. I'm worried people who aren't familiar with trigger warnings might not know what tw means - would the context make it clear?
posted by Deoridhe at 11:30 PM on November 8, 2014 [2 favorites]


I just want to reiterate that I am really grateful for the fact that people have been trigger warning for suicide. Thank you so much, guys, it's a really big help. Funnily enough, it's actually more helpful than when the link text makes it obvious there is something about suicide in the link, but doesn't use a trigger warning. Basically the mention of the word (suicide, that is. Yeesh, it's horrible just typing it.) can put me into a sort of non-self-protecting mode where I'll just go ahead and read whatever and then try to act like I'm not really shaky and/or experiencing intrusive thoughts, while the trigger warning itself is like a reminder to take care and look after myself. This is really personal and I'm not suggesting people take it into account because seriously, just putting the trigger warning/content warning on non-obvious things is a kindness enough.
posted by Acheman at 2:13 AM on November 9, 2014 [9 favorites]


Eyebrows McGee: I do appreciate when people are clear about what potentially problematic material we're facing -- "Link contains graphic descriptions of animal abuse"

I appreciate when people warn, and particularly appreciate it when people give a heads up in the fashion mentioned above.

I do have full-bore shaking/hyperventilating/trouble-breathing panic attacks sometimes, and though I do what I can to avoid the things that can lead to them being set off, i've been saved a time or two here on Metafilter by people giving specific warning for things I wouldn't have otherwise assumed were within the links. (For example, that animal abuse warning on the recent serial killer's daughter thread.)

I don't think we need any hard and fast rules maybe, but I do really appreciate posters who warn for specifics that a reader might not expect, given the post's subject.
posted by pseudonymph at 5:02 AM on November 9, 2014 [1 favorite]


I like it best when there's a parenthetical after the link like this:

link (Bunnies, hopping, tiny fences).

I also tend to read the first few comments first because if there's something horrible in the link it will usually come up in those comments. You can't always depend on the poster to call out any issues with the link - sometimes people think it's 'funny' to do a gotcha link. Sometimes even people who I trust to be thoughtful about things, unfortunately.
posted by winna at 6:31 AM on November 9, 2014 [2 favorites]


I don't like to use "TW" because then you're getting into jargon territory and I think it's really important to spell it out so that everybody is on-board.
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 6:33 AM on November 9, 2014 [19 favorites]


Personally I prefer information-rich communication in general, so I'd much rather an FPP added a parenthetical (eg "note: video contains nudity and simulated self-harm"), compared to a generic and uninformative "trigger warning." (My least favorite is when an FPP just says something like "check this video out!" with no description at all; surprises tend not to be great except on your birthday.)

That's in keeping with the FAQ, that asks for people to provide adequate information about graphic or disturbing content, but explicitly does not call for (nor is there an informal consensus on) using specific "trigger" language.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:33 AM on November 9, 2014 [3 favorites]


I don't have any real triggers, but I do very much appreciate content warnings in the style Eyebrows describes above. "Contains (type of media/degree of severity) of (possibly disturbing subject matter)." As an example, I may be fine with "warning: spiders," but I'd probably not want to click on "warning: video of severe spider infestation." If the warning is for a specific link, right after the link is the best place for it.
posted by Metroid Baby at 7:51 AM on November 9, 2014


It seems to me that the important thing is just warning people about content that they might find disturbing rather than using some specific piece of jargon - I'm not sure that, say, (tw: animal abuse, gore) actually conveys any more information than just (animal abuse, gore) does. I really don't know if you asked some random person on the street, how likely it is that they would know what a trigger warning is, let alone that "tw:" is short for it, unless they're under 30, so I don't think we should be setting the expectation that people use specific verbiage; it feels too much like expecting new users be familiar with tumblr culture to be able to participate here.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 7:51 AM on November 9, 2014 [4 favorites]


Going by how I read the site, I'd like content advisories to be in the text of the post, above the fold.

I try to be as comprehensive as possible with my tags, but I always leave something out and I don't, as a reader, rely on tags to guide my navigation of the site.

As for the wording of the advisory itself, I'm fine with either content warning or trigger warning or both. I don't think "trigger" is too jargony or would interfere with new Mefites use of the site. I also understand, given the discourse communities in which I see the terms used, that "trigger warning" has somewhat different meanings than a "content advisory" does in the context of a TV show or news report. I suspect that both trigger and content can be used and will continue to be used here with net benefit to users.
posted by audi alteram partem at 8:40 AM on November 9, 2014


My Mefi Is a part of the site that can be used to filter posts based on tags. It is useful, but not that great since people do not use tags in a consistent, predictable way.

though this could be the best way of doing it, if we were to start tagging posts that contain triggering material as 'triggerwarning'. it would still be behind the fold and so could come too late in some cases, but being able to filter it out somewhat consistently could be helpful, no?
posted by spindle at 9:17 AM on November 9, 2014 [1 favorite]


I was induced to MyMefi after asking in a thread that triggered me. I was unaware that it existed. In my ideal world people would try to also tag posts with trigger warning as well as above the fold.

I don't think trigger warning is lingo that is new to people. I have seen it on the Web since I started using it. I just think the development of Tumblr has made it more common.
posted by kanata at 9:26 AM on November 9, 2014


It seems like the mods have been open in the past to requests to add "NSFW" warnings on links when requested. Would asking for some sort of content warning to be added to a link also be kosher?
posted by jaguar at 9:44 AM on November 9, 2014


Would asking for some sort of content warning to be added to a link also be kosher?

Mods expect people to accurately describe links and not surprise people with NSFW content behind them. If someone adds a link that doesn't have context and it goes somewhere NSFW, mods would generally add that if someone asked. NSFW for the purposes of MetaFilter is described in the FAQ. NSFW rarely refers to the content of the text of a post. People who ask for SFW post text are politely told that it's not a thing that MeFi does (but we ask people to move spoilers and graphic descriptions of abuse under the fold, for example).

Content warnings are a slightly different beast. This would be something that might refer to the links in a post or possibly the words in a post itself. Decisions would need to be made about what triggers "should" be indicated and what normative behavior was supposed to be. I agree that "tw" seems jargony but I think that "trigger warning" is clear.

Keep in mind that no matter how this works, if it works, it will always be after the fact meaning that the content would be on the site unwarned unless you could find a way to get all users to agree to this convention (which you can't). So it's worth thinking about that option too. Making it something that is mandatory-in-order-to-post won't work. But that means there is risk. At the same time, coming in to MeFi or AskMe somewhat later (after others who are less triggered might find those posts and indicate them with tags) might be the best realistic option and then people could avoid specific context tags and other people could just be asked to be mindful of standard triggers.
posted by jessamyn (retired) at 9:55 AM on November 9, 2014 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I guess I'm trying to determine if there is a solution, other than deletion, if a triggery link is posted without a warning. Because it's sounding like most people want the warning right next to the link (as would I). I think encouraging people to read comments first (in case of content warnings in the comments) encourages people to comment without reading the links, which is bad enough around here already, so while each person should of course navigate the site in the ways they need to in order to safeguard their emotional wellbeing, I'd hate for "Read the comments first to make sure links are safe" to be the main way of filtering for triggery content.
posted by jaguar at 10:04 AM on November 9, 2014 [1 favorite]


I really really appreciate trigger warnings and have been using them on the Web since at least 2002. I'm not sure the argument that tw has no meaning to some people while NSFW is more recogniseable. I've also seen !trigger but I'm pretty sure that is very unique to that community.

I love tw warnings. My posting history gives a pretty clear pictures as to why. I know it tw aren't perfect and it won't be as I have some rather large trigger groups (like almost everything to do with Christianity which never gets tw and then people use the Jesus Wept quote that always sends me into a tailspin. But that is so specific I can't expect people to be able to accommodate it. And I choose to read the Internet with caution and take medication for my PTSD to manage those unexpected things that come up.
posted by AlexiaSky at 11:10 AM on November 9, 2014 [2 favorites]


My Mefi Is a part of the site that can be used to filter posts based on tags. It is useful, but not that great since people do not use tags in a consistent, predictable way.

It seems worth noting that this is the reason that "tw" got so popular on Tumblr - it's used with xkit's blacklist features (there may be other ways but I'm xkit for life) to allow users to filter the content on their dashes. Not everyone uses the same tags or even tags at all, but it's generally quite useful. Here we have the MyMefi features, which allow people to filter on tags as desired, but hardly anybody seems to use it for some reason. It might be worth adding a sentence or two to the wiki to suggest those who want to filter for upsetting content can use MyMefi, and that these are some of the tags people use to denote upsetting content (list upsetting tags here). Since it's already quite clear from that entry that warning for content is not a required thing to do, it might help some people filter upsetting content better while still making it clear that this isn't a perfect system and there are no assurances that such content will be perfectly filtered.

Anyway, what we call trigger warnings here are generally used differently, as a way to warn the reader to skip a link or a paragraph even while the upsetting content is being displayed (as opposed to being filtered from view altogether as at tumblr). "tw" is a perfectly parsimonious tag for a blacklist filter but not very informative to a human reader, so in that context I much prefer the in-line, "link here" (upsetting content listed here) setup recommended by many above.
posted by dialetheia at 11:49 AM on November 9, 2014 [3 favorites]


I just appreciate when the link is descriptive. Beyond content warnings, it's nice to know when something is a video, a long article, a tumblr, etc. And it's nice to know which is the main/best link of the post when there are several.
posted by michaelh at 1:59 PM on November 9, 2014 [4 favorites]



Here we have the MyMefi features, which allow people to filter on tags as desired, but hardly anybody seems to use it for some reason.


It's difficult to find. I knew it was there, and ended up manually reading through the FAQ to get the direct link.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 2:46 PM on November 9, 2014 [1 favorite]


Personally I prefer information-rich communication in general, so I'd much rather an FPP added a parenthetical (eg "note: video contains nudity and simulated self-harm"), compared to a generic and uninformative "trigger warning."

Yeah, that's my feeling too. I get why folks use "TW" but it *is* unclear jargon for many people, and is also completely unnecessary if the poster just clearly describes the content s/he thinks might be difficult for some fellow Mefites. It's simpler, and functionally indistinguishable from "TW" or "triggering."
posted by mediareport at 2:55 PM on November 9, 2014 [3 favorites]


In other words, the FAQ entry linked by LobsterMitten above is perfect as is:

There is no requirement to use any specific phrasing such as "trigger warning" to do this; it is often more useful to readers just to use normal words to identify the subject matter of the post so readers can make informed choices.
posted by mediareport at 2:57 PM on November 9, 2014 [5 favorites]


This is really useful, thanks, and the eating disorder triggers are something I haven't thought about.

Also, I'm obvz not a mod but I am guessing that they'd make an exception to the general "we might add a NSFW to a link but not a lot else" rule for seizure triggers, yes? It's pretty rare that flashy shit comes up here, as I think people do tend to note it.

Those of you who do use tags and MyMefi to filter: are there any things posters don't tag for that accidentally trigger you? The ability to add tags to contacts' posts might make it easier for us to quietly add, say, a tag for spiders or trypophobia/clustered holes (don't look that up with images on if you don't know what you're getting into) without having to post comments, which could add noise to the conversation and might be missed by the folks who'd find them useful.
posted by NoraReed at 3:16 PM on November 9, 2014


I like trigger warnings and NSFW because they're kind to those of us who are fragile and because I want to click links like that and appreciate the increased ease in spotting them and seeing or reading sexy or gross or violent things.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 3:34 PM on November 9, 2014 [2 favorites]


metafilter isn't a safe space

There are no safe spaces. There are some spaces that we think are safe, but that's distinct from a safe place.
posted by el io at 6:12 PM on November 9, 2014 [1 favorite]


"Safe space" has an actual meaning in terms of online communities and it'd be great if everyone in this particular discussion about trigger warnings, which are a component of safe spaces, could just work from that definition.

Metafilter is explicitly not a safe space, no, and no one's asking for that.
posted by jaguar at 6:34 PM on November 9, 2014 [7 favorites]


I was unaware of this jargon. Sorry about that. It would be helpful if discussions were free from jargon knowledge assumptions as well.

I'll bow out of the conversation though.
posted by el io at 7:46 PM on November 9, 2014 [3 favorites]


Just want to second that I prefer descriptive text rather than a phrase like "Trigger Warning" in isolation, or an abbreviation like "TW." I think that convention is more informative, and makes the information usable to people who may not be familiar with the somewhat specialized language.
posted by Alterscape at 7:51 PM on November 9, 2014 [1 favorite]


I'd rather see simple descriptions without the 'trigger warning' label.

I'd rather the 'trigger warning' be eliminated entirely.
posted by merelyglib at 8:10 PM on November 9, 2014 [4 favorites]


" It would be helpful if discussions were free from jargon knowledge assumptions as well. "

It really would. Communication 101.
posted by merelyglib at 8:31 PM on November 9, 2014 [2 favorites]


If I showed up in a thread about computers and talked about how my computer alternated between a desktop and a laptop computer depending on where I placed it, people would rightly be annoyed that I had no idea that just because "desk" and "top" and "lap" were common English words, they might mean something different when combined and when contextualized in a conversation about computers. There are similar words and phrases that mean things in various social-science or humanity contexts, and posters here act like it's some gigantic imposition to know that, let alone learn those meanings. I had no desire to shut down el io in particular, but this "safe space" versus "space that is 'safe' and what does 'safe' even mean and it's silly to think any online place will be 'safe' according to my personal definition of the word" discussion has popped up before and there's no reason to have it here, too.
posted by jaguar at 8:54 PM on November 9, 2014 [10 favorites]


There are similar words and phrases that mean things in various social-science or humanity contexts, and posters here act like it's some gigantic imposition to know that, let alone learn those meanings.

I think people who live and breathe this kind of jargon 24/7, 365 days a year need to step back and realize that Metafilter is a general interest site and not everyone comes Ito this place with the same background culturally, geographically or academically.

So maybe you can drop the attitude and not act like it is such a gigantic imposition when someone who is interested in a discussion doesn't use your favorite buzz words precisely to your liking in every single conversation.
posted by misha at 9:59 PM on November 9, 2014 [2 favorites]


Excuse me? I linked to a definition and said "This is the definition in play."
posted by jaguar at 10:03 PM on November 9, 2014 [4 favorites]


So no abbreviations, then? I think including an explanation of what trigger warnings or content warnings are on every post that might use them would get old fast, since it seems like we can figure out in context what a word before "warning" followed by a list of possible phobias or traumas. Given what Acheman said earlier, it seems like using the word "warning" might be useful, instead of just listing the possibly difficult topics without any prefix. It seems like everyone prefers detail, so instead of just noting something as "warning: abuse", it'd be more useful to have "warning: child abuse described in detail", or something like that.

Oh, and if anyone was mixed up, I'm using the general way that "trigger warning" is used lately; there is a very specific definition that relates to PTSD, and I think the phrase is used differently relating to other mental health conditions too. There's lots of kinds of content that people might want to avoid or be warned about, whether people want to avoid that content altogether or just don't want to be surprised by it.
posted by NoraReed at 10:41 PM on November 9, 2014


Oh, and if anyone was mixed up, I'm using the general way that "trigger warning" is used lately; there is a very specific definition that relates to PTSD

Yeah, clinically and pedantically I prefer "content warning" to "trigger warning," but in practice it probably doesn't make much difference. I agree that the more descriptive the better, though, in order to alert people to any particular triggers or issues.
posted by jaguar at 10:54 PM on November 9, 2014


I think the phrase "trigger warning" is fraught for people who have a specific set of experiences: those veterans or soldiers who have experienced significant trauma as a result of battle and death and gore beyond what I could imagine, aka battle-induced Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and I think, bluntly, that someone saying they are "triggered" by a post on an Internet message board is a far, far thing from reliving the entire experience of being wounded, many times with awful, life changing results, and with watching fellow humans die.

I think using that term to describe being made uncomfortable by the subject of a post is incredibly demeaning to their lived experience. It's diminishing, and pretty insulting. It also appropriates that experience from people that have lived it, and that's really troubling.

As a point of reference, my uncle is a Vietnam vet. He saw entire villages being napalmed, and things like children on fire, while taking fire from an enemy position. The man can't even sit at a campfire without going into a shock state.

For that reason, I really, really wish this community could stop using the phrase "trigger warning". It's not in the ballpark with a disturbing post, really. Use "content warning", use phrasing in the post, whatever. But I really wish we could stop using that phrase.
posted by disclaimer at 12:03 AM on November 10, 2014 [2 favorites]


One thing that I've noticed is redundant labeling like

"Bolivian children victims of child trafficking speak out!
'We were beaten and raped,' said the children in this interview in the New York Times.
(trigger warning: trafficking, sexual violence)"

I do appreciate a content warning when there is something disturbing but unexpected. i.e., by my lights you don't have to label an article about the Syrian civil war as having disturbing triggers because of course it will, but if you label an article about dogs and it turns out it's about the evils of puppy mills then yes.
posted by feets at 12:46 AM on November 10, 2014 [2 favorites]


I was triggered in a post recently. It made me feel dizzy and dissociate and basically relive a life destroying event where I have indeed been wounded physically and emotionally. One that I actually also could have died from.

Not to play "which PTSD" is worse but being triggered has real life changing feelings and definition to people beyond war veterans. There are more sexual assault victims diagnosed with ptsd than soldiers.

When my doctors stop referring to me reacting out of a place of hurt and experiencing somatic and visual memories to the point I am unable to function as triggered I will use whatever word they use then.

No one is asking that this place be safe but I see this happen every time a mere suggestion of using the idea of a trigger warning. People jump on the idea and quibble about the definition and how it is wrong etc. . When really all people are saying is it would be kind of nice if someone did this but we understand it can't be mandatory.
posted by kanata at 12:54 AM on November 10, 2014 [9 favorites]


I'm not saying trigger warnings aren't valid. I'm saying USE A DIFFERENT PHRASE. There is a specific meaning to " trigger warning" within a diagnosis of battlefield PTSD. I think that using "trigger warning" outside of that context diminishes the experience of the people that suffer it. Do you think, honestly, that because there are more survivors of sexual abuse means they should own the phrase, and that battlefield PTSD survivors should find different words instead?
posted by disclaimer at 1:21 AM on November 10, 2014


PTSD is PTSD. Whether the initiating event is war, torture, natural disaster, sexual assault, physical assault, or even transportation accident, and whether the person involved was the one who endured threat to life or was only a witness, the common theme is that the person traumatized has experienced profound horror, terror, and helplessness and cannot "move on" to live a life free of those feelings. The battlefield is by no means the only source of this mental illness.
posted by gingerest at 1:59 AM on November 10, 2014 [18 favorites]


I've always heard the PTSD-related definition of "trigger" for anything that can cause flashbacks without differentiation between whether the trauma that caused the PTSD was from war or sexual assault or something else. That said, I think the word "trigger" might be useful in the contexts of other mental health issues because of its nature as a verb; you're really looking out for things that trigger bad reactions, which can include flashbacks, seizures, disordered thinking, panic attacks, and more.

I guess there might be some issues with co-opting something relating to PTSD, but, well, it's an easy phrasing to use that people are likely to understand, and getting upset about its usage when "content warning" might be more appropriate kind of feels like getting angry at people with Celiac telling a waiter they are "allergic to gluten". I mean, it's not strictly the correct scientific definition, but people know what you're talking about, and the gastrointestinal trouble that can ruin a day isn't really comparable to going into anaphylactic shock, but it's still really awful. And, to extend the metaphor, people with a PTSD trigger might have the same stimulus that causes someone else to have a panic attack; labeling stuff for that helps both groups, just like food labels help people with allergies, people with intolerances, people on special diets and people with religious reasons for avoiding certain foods.

It seems unreasonable to ask posters to separate trigger warnings from content warnings, then, because there's too much overlap between different types of possibly traumatic stimuli to separate PTSD triggers from everything else.
posted by NoraReed at 2:10 AM on November 10, 2014 [2 favorites]


Not to play "which PTSD" is worse but being triggered has real life changing feelings and definition to people beyond war veterans.

*Mild Spoiler for second season of Six Feet Under*

So, I had brain surgery a while back. It went about as well as could be expected, and I felt very calm and collected the whole time. Recovery was good, although there are lingering effects. A few years after the surgery, I was watching the second season of Six Feet Under, which has a plot thread not entirely unlike my situation. And, after about two episodes dealing with this thread, I had a really bad reaction -- panic, nausea, dizziness, etc that came in waves for days -- it was pretty mild by all accounts, but really unpleasant. I gave up the series. I am now much more supportive of the idea of "triggering." I don't think any group of trauma survivors has more or less right to the term, and I think they all deserve as much warning as can reasonably be given.

There is no way anyone can reasonably warn me of something that will set me off again (I don't go looking for brain survey information, but I run across it, and I haven't had another such strong reaction, although sometimes I feel sharply queasy), so I think there are a lot of people who can't really be warned, but the basics -- rape, abuses, carnage, descriptions of animal cruelty*, etc -- can be described without too much trouble.

*The "my father was a serial killer" FPP last week had, in the body of the article, a not-terribly graphic but very upsetting description of animal cruelty that I really wish I hadn't read (and comments suggested I was not alone), although I wouldn't describe that as a "trigger" in my case.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:12 AM on November 10, 2014 [3 favorites]


The thing about the Suffering Olympics is that there's really no way to win. There are probably some Vietnamese villagers who would be unsympathetic to the idea that watching their homes burn and their children die was the worst trauma imaginable, against which all other traumas should be judged and found lacking. I'm also not sure that I can think of another word that works as well, so I'm going to keep using trigger, because it's a useful concept to me. Identifying and avoiding my triggers has been a really big part of my eating disorder recovery, and I'm not giving it up just because having an eating disorder isn't the worst thing that's ever happened to anyone.

Incidentally, the OED seems not to have an entry for this usage of trigger, which is interesting. I'd be interested to know when and in what context it was created.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 5:37 AM on November 10, 2014 [2 favorites]


I really appreciate trigger warnings, as do a lot of people. I have PTSD, and honestly as long as there's some kind of note above the (more inside), I'm happy. Putting it in the tags isn't super helpful, as people can miss them if they actually RTFA first and their filters might not catch them if they're formatted differently. Phrasing isn't as important, so long as I know what could be upsetting. A blanket "trigger warning" is totally unhelpful; "warning: contains depictions of rape" is helpful.

I understand that not everything can be tagged. One of my triggers (and my doctor refers to them as triggers, even though my PTSD was caused by abuse instead of military service) is a song. It is the stupidest trigger, and I don't ask anyone to tag for it because it is a good song and people like it. No one expects something like that to be a trigger. I do my own policing and I know that I cannot click on links about a certain band or go to certain concerts. A lot of PTSD triggers are things like that: songs, smells, things that seem completely innocuous to everyone else in the world. I'm not trying to make everyone walk on eggshells by asking them to tag for everything that could be a trigger. That's impossible.

That said, if I could rearrange the entire world to provide trigger warnings for that fucking song, I'd do it. I'd put big flashing signs on every coffeeshop and open mic night, because every time I hear it I am unable to move and consumed with the absolute certainty that I am going to die, that my body is about to be a very bad place to hang out, but I cannot fucking move. Triggers are completely awful, please be aware of that.

Anyway, bottom line is that warning about the big stuff - rape, murder, torture - takes very little time, and it spare a lot of people some really miserable experiences. It would be cool of you.
posted by a hat out of hell at 6:44 AM on November 10, 2014 [10 favorites]


"It seems unreasonable to ask posters to separate trigger warnings from content warnings, then, because there's too much overlap between different types of possibly traumatic stimuli to separate PTSD triggers from everything else."

I think the basic difference between the two concepts comes from the realization that, as others have said, actual triggers (the ones that bring on the fight-flight-freeze response or a desire to self-harm) are very individual, like songs or smells or flavors of ice cream, and other people are not really expected to know that, for example, any mention of butter pecan ice cream or a campfire is going to trigger a panic attack for an individual.

Content warnings are a heads-up that the content of the posted piece contains material that may not necessarily officially be a "trigger" (I know sexual assault survivors who can read about rape without getting panicked flashbacks, for instance, though that's not true of everybody, of course) but that may be upsetting. "Content warning" is just a term that acknowledges that triggers are individual and that even people without PTSD or eating disorders or other challenges may nevertheless want some warning before reading upsetting stuff.

Most of what people use "trigger warnings" for is actually warning about content, not triggers. I think it's quite possibly a that-ship-has-sailed situation with the terminology, though.
posted by jaguar at 7:15 AM on November 10, 2014 [1 favorite]


Personally, I like NSFW warnings on posts, because it highlights a post I might want to see, just not at work.

However, it makes much more sense for folks who get triggered by certain subjects to set up their MyMefi (which really is an excellent feature) to hide the existence of posts that they would never ever even want to read. It would only require a few standard tags (that we could agree on) for the principal trigger subjects (e.g. sexualabuse childabuse animalabuse eatingdisorders suicide rape murder torture trafficking sexualviolence). Or we could consolidate to a broad 3 tags - abuse eatingdisorders suicide which covers more or less everything mentioned up-thread.

Now this puts the onus on the community to flag posts and request the inclusion of one of the standard tags on the post. Mods would then do so at their discretion. I realise that means some people may miss out on some posts that may not have been their exact trigger and that they may still sometimes see posts that have not yet been flagged 'n' tagged (so they would have to do it themselves) but I believe this would be more effective and practicable than requesting posters or mods to include trigger warnings.
posted by guy72277 at 7:49 AM on November 10, 2014


Now this puts the onus on the community to flag posts and request the inclusion of one of the standard tags on the post. Mods would then do so at their discretion.

Also worth a reminder that people can tag posts by any of their co-contacts also. I know this is a huge community but I bet if you were the co-contact of like 500 people you would likely have tagging ability over almost all of the posts that were likely to be on those topics. Because, in all seriousness, there is a short list of people who have a tendency to post those sorts of threads. It's certainly not perfect, but it might be a good blunt instrument to get a lot of this stuff accurately indicated without a lot of mod involvement. Not saying that your suggestion isn't a good one, just saying that realistically a deputized group of people on the lookout for posts to tag and people using MyMeFi might go a long way.

Requiring trigger warnings is a non-starter, so realistically figuring a way to get maximum usefulness out of the available tools seems like the best way forward.
posted by jessamyn (retired) at 7:55 AM on November 10, 2014 [2 favorites]


I don't think we should assume that people never want to read about things that upset them, just that they may want some control over where and when. Exactly like NSFW material.
posted by jaguar at 8:29 AM on November 10, 2014 [3 favorites]


While recognizing that trigger warnings are not and probably never will be mandatory, I think including them when they seem warranted is a good idea. I agree with what I understand to be the official Team Mod position on the subject, namely that they are not going to try to enforce any kind of administrative or technological solution re: trigger warnings (because it would be a nightmare to do so consistently, among other reasons) but that if the community thinks they should be used then that's all to the good. I have never personally felt that I needed a trigger warning (or that a trigger warning made the difference for me between reading/not reading something) but I'm glad that people use them. I'm glad that people seem to be using them more, and more consistently.

That established, here's how I personally would prefer trigger warnings to be employed.

• Inline, when they relate to a link in an FPP or a comment like this:
Here's a really intense story [trigger warning: graphic violence] that I think is relevant to this subject.
• As a header, when they pertain to a comment which is itself potentially disturbing, like this:
[Trigger Warning: child abuse]

When I was a kid, blah blah blah Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Donec a diam lectus. Sed sit amet ipsum mauris. Maecenas congue ligula ac quam viverra nec consectetur ante hendrerit. Donec et mollis dolor. Praesent et diam eget libero egestas mattis sit amet vitae augue. Nam tincidunt congue enim, ut porta lorem lacinia consectetur. Donec ut libero sed arcu vehicula ultricies a non tortor. Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Aenean ut gravida lorem. Ut turpis felis, pulvinar a semper sed, adipiscing id dolor. Pellentesque auctor nisi id magna consequat sagittis. Curabitur dapibus enim sit amet elit pharetra tincidunt feugiat nisl imperdiet. Ut convallis libero in urna ultrices accumsan. Donec sed odio eros. Donec viverra mi quis quam pulvinar at malesuada arcu rhoncus. Cum sociis natoque penatibus et magnis dis parturient montes, nascetur ridiculus mus. In rutrum accumsan ultricies. Mauris vitae nisi at sem facilisis semper ac in est.
• At the bottom of the above-the-fold portion of an FPP (just before the "more inside") when the FPP as a whole contains a lot of disturbing content. Ideally, most of the nasty stuff should be kept below the fold in such situations. If it can't be kept below the fold for whatever reason then the warning should be either at the very top of the FPP or inline after any above-the-fold links that the poster thinks merit a disclaimer.

I used to prefer a simple "warning" over "trigger warning", but NoraReed points out in the post that some people scan (either visually or with Ctrl+F) for the specific phrase "trigger warning", and I think that's a good point. "Warning" alone is pretty generic and is likely to give a lot of false hits, but "trigger warning" (at least by convention) isn't normally used in conversation and specifically indicates content which might trigger PTSD, a phobia, or some other significant psychological disturbance. As far as what subjects trigger warnings should be used for, I feel like that's best left to the discretion of the poster although I would suggest that people try to limit them to fairly serious stuff. I think I personally find jokey trigger warnings a bit distasteful, but I can't point to any specific problems they would be likely to cause.

So for what it's worth, there are my thoughts on the subject.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 12:11 PM on November 10, 2014 [5 favorites]


I can't point to any specific problems they would be likely to cause.

They make people really angry when used in thoughtless ways and make light of people who actually have trigger issues they are trying to manage. They punch down. If you don't want a thread to turn into a discussion of trigger warnings (as opposed to whatever it was originally about), don't make your trigger warning jokes.
posted by jessamyn (retired) at 12:15 PM on November 10, 2014 [8 favorites]


I don't think we should assume that people never want to read about things that upset them, just that they may want some control over where and when. Exactly like NSFW material.

Hmmm, not sure if the two are exactly the same. I'm assuming though that someone could get triggered by a post title/intro, whereas you can read any NSFW post title/intro and not have any resulting work-related issues.

Anyway, the great thing about MyMefi is that you set your preferences so that the potentially triggering posts are hidden until the time that you decide you are up to the task of reading possible triggers. At which point, you copy and delete your list of "excluded tags", then simply paste it into your "favorite tags". That way you get to see all (and only) the posts that you hid. It works pretty well.

For the comments though, I worry that everyone might get paranoid and we end up with the trigger equivalent of "may contain nuts" when everyone puts in a tw just to 'cover their asses', rendering the whole exercise worse than worthless as it dilutes the true triggers.
posted by guy72277 at 12:50 PM on November 10, 2014


I see this happen every time a mere suggestion of using the idea of a trigger warning. People jump on the idea and quibble about the definition and how it is wrong etc.

But that's not what's happening here. No one is suggesting that warnings about possibly triggering content shouldn't be an important part of MeFi culture. One person doesn't want the specific words "trigger warning" used outside military PTSD contexts, but most folks above, including the mods, seem to be saying "Just clearly describe the content of your post so that people who might find its content triggering for whatever reason can avoid it or plan to see it when they feel able."

Wouldn't that be enough, katana? Again, the FAQ is clear: "it is often more useful to readers just to use normal words to identify the subject matter of the post so readers can make informed choices." What exactly does "TW: child abuse" add to a post clearly about the Catholic Church and child abuse, for instance? Nothing but visual noise and an acronym that will not be clear to everyone.

As a side note related to the blue, my impression is that the kneejerk foolish quibbling about the very idea of trigger warnings that the site used to see regularly has pretty much disappeared in the last year or so. It used to be more of a problem, sure, but most folks now understand the need to warn fellow Mefites about graphic/difficult/violent/sexual content in the body of the post, and I'm guessing folks got quicker about flagging - and mods got quicker about deleting - those kneejerk comments as derails.
posted by mediareport at 12:53 PM on November 10, 2014 [2 favorites]


I see your point, Jessamyn; I think that pretty much explains my feeling of distaste. Well said.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 1:00 PM on November 10, 2014


Anyway, the great thing about MyMefi is that you set your preferences so that the potentially triggering posts are hidden until the time that you decide you are up to the task of reading possible triggers. At which point, you copy and delete your list of "excluded tags", then simply paste it into your "favorite tags". That way you get to see all (and only) the posts that you hid. It works pretty well.

That's just... hugely overly complicated for me. I'm very glad it works for you, though. And I very much like participating in some threads about assault and abuse, and some days I just don't have the energy, and I don't really ever want to read about animal abuse, but I'm not willing to basically pre-censor content that I might want to read just to avoid content I might not want to read based solely on tags.

And many people's triggers fluctuate in intensity depending on life stressors, environment, etc. It's absolutely conceivable that someone is having a good day and is in a really strong place and wants to help advocate for people who have been abused in the way they themselves have, and the next week that same person is overworked and underslept and just had to see their abuser at a wedding and so really can't deal with any more on that particular day, and maybe the following week things are better and they want to advocate again but they know that trying to do so at work would be too much.

Feeling triggered or retraumatized is not really a binary thing for many people.
posted by jaguar at 1:11 PM on November 10, 2014 [3 favorites]


but NoraReed points out in the post that some people scan (either visually or with Ctrl+F) for the specific phrase "trigger warning", and I think that's a good point.

No, she *asks* whether anyone skims posts using "TW" or "CW" or whatever keyword. It's not clear to me how that would work as a strategy: if there's no hit for CTRL-F for either of those on the front page, do they then assume it's gonna be ok to click on anything that day, regardless of what the post itself says it's about?

I really don't think anyone concerned about triggering content would use MeFi that way.
posted by mediareport at 1:13 PM on November 10, 2014


That's just... hugely overly complicated for me

Ok, I understand doing it the copy paste way could be complicated. It's a good way to do it if you don't want to miss any posts, however, there's a simpler way that might suit some people better. At times when they can't deal with any more stuff they can read their filtered MyMefi, and at times when they're in a strong place and up for advocating, they read unfiltered Metafilter. Just set up two separate bookmarks.

Sorry, just throwing possible technical solutions out there.
posted by guy72277 at 1:48 PM on November 10, 2014 [1 favorite]


One person doesn't want the specific words "trigger warning" used outside military PTSD contexts

Yes, this is the argument that kanata was referring to. Not to speak for anyone, but I thought kanata was simply (and rightly!) pointing out that PTSD can come from a broader range of situations than just military combat. I think there's a separate question about whether we should use the term "trigger warning" outside of a PTSD context altogether, but I saw those comments as arguing that even if we restrict it to PTSD situations, we need to include more than just combat-related PTSD.
posted by dialetheia at 2:32 PM on November 10, 2014


The OP asked if there were any scripts or tools that can filter content, and there are:

MetaFilter tools: new and updated and the one you want is NANCY.

I have not used it myself but have recommended it and have heard it works really well.

Hope this helps!
posted by danabanana at 2:41 PM on November 10, 2014


Yes, that is the comment I was referring to. Metafilter has gotten better about this as I remember in the past entire threads would derailed if the request for a trigger warning was casually made.

I was speaking from a place of frustration I suppose in that there are a large majority of people who still do not believe that ptsd can be from anything else but war. There is a huge stigma to having PTSD from any other source and I am afraid I was reacting out of frustration at that and feeling dismissed at being challenged about using the word "trigger".

Ironically, I was "triggered" by the discussion of the word "trigger".

My apologies as fall is an entire season of me being perpetually triggered and probably a good time for me to stop posting here for awhile on any subject that even remotely hits too close to home.

In a perfect world the entire season would have a trigger warning and we would skip to spring.
posted by kanata at 2:49 PM on November 10, 2014 [2 favorites]


Yes, this is the argument that kanata was referring to.

I completely agree that "trigger warning" should not be, and generally has not been, limited to war-related trauma. But I do think kanata suggests there's a much wider problem than exists:

there are a large majority of people who still do not believe that ptsd can be from anything else but war

I just don't think that's true here at MeFi, although perhaps I've just missed those threads. The two comments from disclaimer are the only ones I've seen that suggest "trigger warning" should only be used in relation to war-related trauma. I vehemently disagree with that notion, and suspect almost all Mefites would do the same.

I understand some might think it's pedantic, but the major point I've been trying to make is that the current site guidelines (i.e., there is no need for a specific, jargony acronym like "TW:" so long as members respect one another by clearly describing any difficult content they link) are more than adequate. There's no need to insist on "Trigger Warning:" in posts that do what they're supposed to do. I'll leave it at that.
posted by mediareport at 3:21 PM on November 10, 2014 [2 favorites]


Personally, I don’t care whether some says: "trigger warning: stuff," or "content warning: stuff," or "warning: stuff." At risk of losing my nerd card, I am not so picky about the exact wording, or if the rule is made official or not. I would just really like to see more care taken to warn people about articles that contain descriptions of events that are generally deemed to be upsetting (i.e. abuse, rape, animal cruelty, etc.). This thread seems to be doing a good job of reminding everyone that warnings are appreciated by a non-zero sum of people, so I would consider that a win.
posted by Shouraku at 6:55 PM on November 10, 2014 [6 favorites]


I really don't know if you asked some random person on the street, how likely it is that they would know what a trigger warning is, let alone that "tw:" is short for it, unless they're under 30, so I don't think we should be setting the expectation that people use specific verbiage; it feels too much like expecting new users be familiar with tumblr culture to be able to participate here.

I strongly agree with this.
posted by Sebmojo at 1:11 PM on November 12, 2014


This is probably influenced by me taking a technical writing extension (post graduate, but not degree-oriented) course: I would much rather see some verbosity for the sake of clarity than abbreviations and acronyms that are likely to not function as intended or be misinterpreted in distracting ways.
posted by kalessin at 12:06 PM on November 17, 2014


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