What topics to include a content warning for? May 3, 2016 9:17 AM   Subscribe

When posting to Metafilter, what would you consider including a warning about, so people know what to expect in the content? Or, what would you like to have a warning about before you click on a Metafilter link?

I realize these warnings are optional, but for people that like to use them, what are the topics that are most in need of a warning? I'm aware of the most obvious things (sexual assault, gun violence, eating disorders), but what are items that could also use a mention?

The reason I ask is because of this post, which links to an article with a giant spider. It would not have occurred to me to warn people about a picture of a spider, but I can see from the responses to the post, why that would be helpful. So what are the examples of items that could use a warning, for people who choose to do that with their posts?

I saw this previous post, which was about how to do a warning, not what topics to warn people about.
posted by andoatnp to Etiquette/Policy at 9:17 AM (69 comments total)

Warning: It's a link to something on the internet.
posted by yhbc at 9:23 AM on May 3, 2016 [10 favorites]


For comments, I generally put a warning up if something bad happens to an animal in something I'm linking to that isn't obvious from the link itself.
posted by griphus at 9:27 AM on May 3, 2016 [20 favorites]


Auto-playing video or audio. Sometimes people are at work or somewhere on speakers and may not want to click on something and suddenly have loud music playing.
posted by bondcliff at 9:27 AM on May 3, 2016 [32 favorites]


Besides the normal NSFW/NSFL stuff, pretty much any graphic description of something disturbing. Anything where you might go "man I wish I hadn't read/seen that". I also really appreciate format warnings: pdf, autoplay video/audio, flash/unity.
posted by specialagentwebb at 9:29 AM on May 3, 2016 [10 favorites]


Yeah "unexpectedly disturbing" like violence to a person but especially children or pets. A link that includes a graphic photo, blinky anything, or loud noises.

I feel like there are a few categories

- might be a problem if you are at work
- might be a problem for people who are sensitive to those things (and/or epileptic which has specific blinky-things sensitivity)
- might be a problem for people who aren't either of those things but don't like really bad surprises or "gotcha" links

So for the third one, if your description basically says "Read this spider story" you don't need a warning about spiders. But if it's like "Look what is up in Australia!" and then you have a spider tag (which people don't see on mobile) and then the article has a photo of a giant spider, people might see that as a gotcha and not be happy. Unless you're trolling, that's better avoided.
posted by jessamyn (retired) at 9:34 AM on May 3, 2016 [15 favorites]


It helps to think about what might be upsetting to the specific audience of people interested in what you're posting. So, if you're posting about phobias, think about what might be upsetting to people with common phobias, since they're the ones most likely to read the article. If you're posting about animals, think about what might be upsetting to people who like animals, since they're the ones most likely to read the article. Etc.
posted by lazuli at 9:35 AM on May 3, 2016 [3 favorites]


Body horror.
posted by zarq at 9:43 AM on May 3, 2016 [1 favorite]


Eating noises in unrelated videos. (I'm looking at you, Sopranos.)
posted by supercres at 9:59 AM on May 3, 2016 [3 favorites]


Lark's vomit. You definitely need a warning about lark's vomit.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 10:18 AM on May 3, 2016 [8 favorites]


I appreciate it when people put a warning for something that's just "LOUD" like the bunko scream jar FPP did, as I often computer with headphones on to avoid disturbing people.
posted by the uncomplicated soups of my childhood at 10:23 AM on May 3, 2016 [4 favorites]


Any video/gif that looks like it's gonna just be one big thing but then some part of it bursts open and suddenly there are thousands and thousands of tiny things falling out of it, usually spiders.
posted by phunniemee at 10:27 AM on May 3, 2016 [11 favorites]


Kittens
posted by HuronBob at 10:31 AM on May 3, 2016


which links to an article with a giant spider.

"Prepare the Ritual of Chüd."

"A clown is not a big spider. A clown will not bite me and throw me in the basement."
posted by octobersurprise at 10:33 AM on May 3, 2016 [2 favorites]


Am I the only one feeling a bit squicked out after just reading phunniemee's comment?
posted by zachlipton at 10:35 AM on May 3, 2016 [8 favorites]


It's disappointing but unfortunately not really surprising to already see jokes upthread making fun of the idea of providing content warnings. Hopefully people can hold their tongue for the rest of the thread instead of mockingly suggesting warning for kittens, or the fact that it's a link in itself.
posted by flatluigi at 10:40 AM on May 3, 2016 [14 favorites]


My first thought was, goodness, there's someone out there that's sensitive to any thing, so a warning could be applied to almost any post; but then I considered why the site is called Metafilter. So yeah, if you can imagine a reason why folks would be squicked, startled or fired then placing a warning is a small effort for a good cause.

Loud autoplay is it for me, so thanks in advance.
posted by OHenryPacey at 10:43 AM on May 3, 2016


Any form of violence, for sure. Even implications of violence, depending on the specific content, might do well with a CW - for example, video of a loud, heated, shouting argument between people where someone punches a wall in anger. Such a thing might might trigger those who have experienced childhood abuse or violence.

Sometimes a content warning spoils the surprise, as in one of those prank links where you're supposed to turn your volume up and stare at a particular point on the screen in an image that appears to be static and then there's screaming in the audio track and a horrible ghost face right where you were looking. But those kind of surprises aren't very nice.
posted by theorique at 10:51 AM on May 3, 2016 [1 favorite]


When posting to Metafilter, what would you consider including a warning about, so people know what to expect in the content?

At minimum, I expect a description of the content, although I'm frequently disappointed. It might be confirmation bias, but reposts from Projects seem to be particularly bad in that respect.

Sometimes a content warning spoils the surprise, as in one of those prank links where you're supposed to turn your volume up and stare at a particular point on the screen in an image that appears to be static and then there's screaming in the audio track and a horrible ghost face right where you were looking. But those kind of surprises aren't very nice.

Yeah, don't do that here.
posted by zamboni at 11:05 AM on May 3, 2016 [6 favorites]


Fuck those prank links, anyway. They're only fun for the people who get to fall about laughing at someone who gets unexpectedly startled.

I just try to be very clear about what's in the post I'm talking about. Sometimes I am not good at predicting what will be horribly gross to other people, and in that case I've found that mods are pretty receptive to letting me put in a last-minute modification above the cut to explain what it is that I'm sharing. (Or I can just leave a comment clarifying, if it's something I linked in a comment.)
posted by sciatrix at 11:08 AM on May 3, 2016 [1 favorite]


[meta-warning: gross]

It is a tricky one. From experience of not getting this quite right through diligence, one person's disgusting exploding zit autoplaying-animated gif is another person's "Oh, that looks like Easy Cheese coming out the can, interesting". Because of this, would suggest two candidate warnings being:

- gross
- autoplaying video/music
posted by Wordshore at 11:22 AM on May 3, 2016 [2 favorites]


I'm with zamboni. Just tell me what the hell the thing is. I think special trigger/content warnings are good for things that are NSFW, violent, or sexual assault related. (I'm also perfectly OK with a warning for animals, especially if it's a long story or video that takes a sad turn at the end). But if it's a picture of a spider I don't really need a trigger warning, just tell me I'm about to see a picture of a spider and let me be the judge.

"Surprise" links that are only "funny" if you don't say what the link is stopped being even remotely funny probably 10 years ago. We've all been rickrolled by now, we're over it.

I pretty much never click on something in a FPP that doesn't say what it is.
posted by Sara C. at 11:24 AM on May 3, 2016 [8 favorites]


It's disappointing but unfortunately not really surprising to already see jokes upthread making fun of the idea of providing content warnings.

yes. but as the following comment from this recent thread points out all too well, a big part of the problem is that there are very many (and complex) triggers out there just as there very many (and complex) traumas:

For me the sound of an approaching Huey is a stressor and a 5 degree burn is a trigger, for a buddy it's the exact opposite, put them both together and neither one of us is worth knowing for the rest of the day.

How big of a sub population of people stressed or triggered by the sound of a Huey does there need to be before we rate a trigger warning?


My point being: beyond some really obvious stuff, it's really hard to know what to warn folks about.

which links to an article with a giant spider.

For instance, I would never have thought to warn about spiders.
posted by philip-random at 11:42 AM on May 3, 2016 [2 favorites]


For instance, I would never have thought to warn about spiders.

Even for an article that promised a cure for spider phobias? I think that was the disconnect.
posted by lazuli at 11:50 AM on May 3, 2016


Even for an article that promised a cure for spider phobias?

yes, even for ...

I live in an area where spiders are beyond abundant. I doubt a spider phobia could survive here, so it's never really occurred to me to take them seriously.

Now though, I guess I do.
posted by philip-random at 11:57 AM on May 3, 2016 [1 favorite]


a big part of the problem is that there are very many (and complex) triggers out there just as there very many (and complex) traumas

Sure, but if you're posting an article about a brutal rape, it seems like a no-brainer to mention that in the FPP, as a kindness for survivors of rape.

I'm generally in the "Look, triggers are complicated, there's no way I could expect to be protected from all the things that trigger me" camp. But I also think it's trivial to include a warning if there's going to be content that very obviously is going to trigger a lot of people.

I read an article online (not via MeFi) yesterday that was about body image, and the author included a trigger warning for people who suffer from eating disorders. I thought that was a kind thing to do, despite the fact that it would obviously be impossible to protect everyone from every potential trigger. The author was not trying to protect from ALL triggers, just the one that seemed blatantly connected to her topic.

Note that I don't think that you always have to include an eating disorder trigger warning for every FPP that could possibly trigger a person with an eating disorder, but I do think that:

1. If you care enough to make an FPP, you should care enough to think this stuff through,

and

2. If the thing you're posting is obviously going to be triggering to a lot of people, it would be a kindness, yes.
posted by Sara C. at 11:57 AM on May 3, 2016 [10 favorites]


For instance, I would never have thought to warn about spiders.

I personally have no issue with spiders but I know a lot of people who do so, if I were to ever post a spider thread, I would put a warning, because I have other bug issues.

There's a user here named Millipede and one time I clicked on their profile and they had a picture of a fucking millipede and I was twitching for the rest of the day.
posted by bondcliff at 11:59 AM on May 3, 2016 [5 favorites]


I dislike warnings, beleiving them to be an overreach in most cases, and just write exactly what the post on is, without being cute or clever.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:59 AM on May 3, 2016 [5 favorites]


"Surprise" links that are only "funny" if you don't say what the link is stopped being even remotely funny probably 10 years ago. We've all been rickrolled by now, we're over it.

I wish my co-workers who send "goatse" as an embedded link with "Here's a link to the spreadsheet you needed" got that memo... :(
posted by theorique at 12:11 PM on May 3, 2016


Sure, but if you're posting an article about a brutal rape, it seems like a no-brainer to mention that in the FPP, as a kindness for survivors of rape.

yes, absolutely.
And I do tend to post warnings (sometimes a little tongue-in-cheek) when they occur to me.
posted by philip-random at 12:17 PM on May 3, 2016


The solution to that is to send back a reply that reads "Ugh, so two thousand and late, man..."

They'll stop if they think it's lame, but they won't stop if they think they got to you.
posted by Sara C. at 12:18 PM on May 3, 2016




I think the term "trigger warning" is what puts people on the defensive. It's not likely that someone is going to go jump off a bridge, or some other extreme, because of something they read on mefi. "Content warning" is good - think of it like when the TV news warns that "some viewers may find the following footage disturbing." Some will find it exciting! Some will find it interesting! Med students might find images of people ripped apart by bombs to be educational. But it's still good to have the warning.

Here's three ways you can do the same post. Each one gives me the heads up, and based on my current level of emotional exhaustion on the topic, I can choose whether or not to read it:

Right-wing coalition addresses South Carolina Legislature [contains LGBT hate speech]

Right-wing coalition urges South Carolina Legislature to pass anti-transgender bill

[tw transphobia] Right-wing coalition addresses South Carolina Legislature
posted by AFABulous at 12:39 PM on May 3, 2016 [4 favorites]


In part it seems like obvious trigger warnings become necessary when people feel like they're obliged to be as clever / oblique / artsy as possible when titling and putting in a description for a FPP. Sometimes, straightforward is best, and let the linked-to content stand on its own merits, and let people read the description and decide for themselves whether it's something they care to pursue.
posted by aught at 12:54 PM on May 3, 2016 [6 favorites]


I wish my co-workers who send "goatse" as an embedded link with "Here's a link to the spreadsheet you needed" got that memo... :(

Wow, that would be a fire-able offense where I work.
posted by aught at 12:56 PM on May 3, 2016 [6 favorites]


The spreadsheet you need is not always the spreadsheet you want.
posted by AFABulous at 1:03 PM on May 3, 2016 [2 favorites]


I should clarify, former co-worker / former company. (However, the reason he left was not related to his goatse-rolling email tomfoolery.)

Startups gonna startup, I guess. Pre-HR companies have a lot more leeway in what people get away with than companies with formal policies and procedures.
posted by theorique at 1:33 PM on May 3, 2016 [1 favorite]


Did goatse make it harder to adjust columns?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:11 PM on May 3, 2016 [3 favorites]


So for the third one, if your description basically says "Read this spider story" you don't need a warning about spiders.

Yeah, exactly, thing is, there was no mention of spiders at all. I commented in the thread (while my brain was still in AAAAH SPIDERSSS mode and my skin still tingling and shivering so I apologize if I sounded a bit too upset! but I wanted to spare others the same non-fun shot of adrenaline), I was annoyed with the magazine for that, not the user who posted the link, that’s not their responsibility really – it would have nice to be warned, but it’s not their fault that the New Republic decided to basically play a stupid prank on the very people mentioned in the article! Ah well.

(I mean, really, you’re a magazine publishing an entire article - and a very interesting and thoughtful one too - about phobias and you do mention that aracnophobia is one of the most common ones, and then what do you do, splash a giant photo of the hairiest blackest tarantula at the top? Nevermind insensitive, that’s not even clever really. Just imagine all the aracnophobes who would love reading that article - I did after reloading with images disabled - and learning about that research but will be turned away by the photo at the top?)

The only people I could ever forgive for GIANT BLACK HAIRY SPIDERS were The Cure. In fact, I calmed down after seeing that photo just by thinking of that video and song, it works as antidote for me.

In the end, I’d say it should be enough to just use common sense when it comes to warnings? And maybe better err on the side of extra kindness to readers, at least when you know there is a common phobia involved, that’s all.
posted by bitteschoen at 2:13 PM on May 3, 2016 [2 favorites]


Common sense ain't so common and everyone forgets stuff at times.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:14 PM on May 3, 2016 [2 favorites]


Eh I’m sure the poster didn’t even think it’d be an issue, because if you’re not phobic about spiders you may actually think they’re cool even. But now that it’s been brought up, a simple reference or description as a warning doesn’t hurt, no?

I know people who have no reaction to spiders cannot understand and may even find it entertaining or something to make fun of, I don’t care - sure it’s not the end of the world and it’s not post-traumatic stress from war and famine and years in a gulag, but it’s not fun or entertaining either and it’s an unwanted reaction and it’s common enough to be known so just make it clear you don’t want to play a prank on anyone and everyone’s happy.
posted by bitteschoen at 2:38 PM on May 3, 2016 [1 favorite]


I don't have a fear of spiders, but I still know that a lot of people do, and that a lot of people don't want to see pictures or read links about creepy crawly bug type creatures.

The least you can do is say "this is a Scientific American article about spiders" or the like. I don't see any reason why it has to be shrouded in secrecy.
posted by Sara C. at 2:53 PM on May 3, 2016


And maybe better err on the side of extra kindness to readers

Absolutely. I understand some people think that mystery is paramount for creating an authentic reaction, but if the material is strong enough it can withstand a heads-up to the community. This post is my gold standard for proving that even a scare warning will not diminish an actual scare, well done.
posted by psoas at 3:00 PM on May 3, 2016 [1 favorite]


In part it seems like obvious trigger warnings become necessary when people feel like they're obliged to be as clever / oblique / artsy as possible when titling and putting in a description for a FPP. Sometimes, straightforward is best, and let the linked-to content stand on its own merits, and let people read the description and decide for themselves whether it's something they care to pursue.

Yes, please. I really wish posters would just writ "Person X Did Thing Y" or "Anniversary of Big Event Was Commemorated" or "Famous Artist's Missing Painting Found" or what have you and a more descriptive intro paragraph. My eyes just skim over many titles as meaningless phrases.

Oh, and please warn about bird-related content.
posted by Beti at 3:53 PM on May 3, 2016 [1 favorite]


This post is my gold standard for proving that even a scare warning will not diminish an actual scare, well done.

I've read that thread and partially gotten through the comic multiple times, but I've still never worked up the nerve to scroll all the way to the scary part :(
posted by threeants at 4:10 PM on May 3, 2016


I wish I could unsee that picture of a "Rat King" that I linked to a couple of years ago when I clicked on the name of a character in the Nutcracker.

But, I consider that little surprise just the price I pay for relatively mindless browsing, i.e., I'm sure the context would have tipped me off that it wasn't going to be about a ballet.
posted by she's not there at 4:32 PM on May 3, 2016 [1 favorite]


Do we really still need pdf warnings? I got harassed for not using pdf warnings when I first joined (wow, ten years ago!) and now I still do use (pdf), but they seem weirdly unnecessary.
posted by anotherpanacea at 5:06 PM on May 3, 2016


I wasn't thrilled to see the guy who wanted to preserve his dead dog's ears, so you know--I didn't read the post. I guess I am the Strongest Woman on Earth.
posted by Ideefixe at 7:58 PM on May 3, 2016 [3 favorites]


Snake -- my mother has such a phobia she can't look at a cartoon or line drawing.

Spiders/roaches/maggots/bugs -- they make me feel so creepified I have to leave whatever site I'm on.

Vomit -- just no.

Vivid descriptions of gross things -- gaping wounds, eyeball stuff

And everything Jessamyn said. 'Cos Jessamyn.
posted by The Wrong Kind of Cheese at 8:18 PM on May 3, 2016


I've read that thread and partially gotten through the comic multiple times, but I've still never worked up the nerve to scroll all the way to the scary part :(

I scrolled through the whole thing and thought, eh, not so bad. Then I read the comments and saw someone mention sounds and needing Flash turned on, so I was like, okay, let's give this another shot...

HOLY SHIT I closed that window so fast. It was just reflexive cmd+w. So horrifying.

I guess for that a "Don't watch this somewhere that would be awkward if you started screaming/shaking/hyperventilating" trigger warning might have been helpful.

But if you want to get through the comic without being absolutely terrified, scroll through without Flash. Just make really, really sure Flash is turned off.

This is why I don't watch scary movies ever. I'm totally going to see that scary cartoon person when I close my eyes and try to go to sleep tonight. And I can still hear that crackling sound in my head.
posted by litera scripta manet at 8:53 PM on May 3, 2016 [1 favorite]


But more relevant to the actual topic of this thread, I'd like to expand on and slightly modify the broad categories that Jessamyn outlined earlier in the thread:

1. Logistical content warnings (but not trigger warnings): NSFW, autoplay sound or video, pdf, etc. These aren't things that would actually trigger someone, but it's useful to know about them, especially the first two categories. Particularly important for not getting fired from jobs, as Jessamyn mentioned.

2. Actual trigger warnings*: To me, a true "trigger warning" would be for something that has a likelihood of causing extreme distress and possibly could lead to demonstrable harm for a given person. For example:

- Descriptions or references to rape/sexual assault
- Eating Disorder related material
- Descriptions/references to suicide, particularly methods of suicide
- Self harm descriptions
- Extended descriptions of active alcoholism/drug use
- Graphic violence
- Epilepsy triggers

I'm sure there are others, but I think these are some of the most important ones, in that these topics, taken as a whole, could potentially affect a large part of the userbase, and of the users who are affected, there's a decent likelihood that multiple users would find these topics triggering. Part of one I'm basing this on is that the first 5 I listed is this category have generally been considered off limits for explicit discussion in certain group therapies that I've been a part of, so that's partially what I'm basing this on.

3. More general "disturbing content" warnings: Descriptions of harm to animals/children, comics that will haunt your dreams, spiders, snakes, etc.

The reason why I see these as being separate from the second category is that, even though they could cause distress in a number of people, I think overall they're much less likely to endanger someone who might be dealing with trauma or is in the process of recovering from some of these other conditions (like an Eating Disorder). That's not to diminish anyone who is affected by these things, but I do feel like "trigger warnings" most explicitly refer to things that have the potential to trigger traumatic responses or self harming behaviors, and I think it can be helpful to try to differentiate between the two.

*Triggers for any given person vary a lot, so there's no way to anticipate everything. For example, I use to have a pretty violently negative reaction to the sound of breaking glass and the sound of pills rattling around in a bottle, but I wouldn't expect anyone to be able to anticipate that.
posted by litera scripta manet at 9:21 PM on May 3, 2016 [7 favorites]


Actually, I'd like to add "descriptions of abuse (domestic violence, child abuse, etc)" to the second category. Harm to children/animals should probably be included in there as well.

Of course, there's so much gray area, and I get that for some people seeing a spider could be something that keeps them up at night, just like I can be haunted for years by scary stories/movies, but I still see those as distinct from warnings for things that could trigger someone who has experienced trauma or trigger self destructive/injurious behaviors.
posted by litera scripta manet at 10:35 PM on May 3, 2016 [1 favorite]


litera scripta manet: Good distinction.

I think some of the public misunderstanding about trigger warnings versus content warnings is that a trigger is a psychological anchor for clinical or non-clinical PTSD or phobia. It can be completely benign to a person who does not have that specific trigger - e.g. a smell of a particular soap for a sexual assault victim, or the sound of helicopters for a war veteran.

On the other hand, a content warning is about something generally agreed to be unpleasant or upsetting to many people, and/or unsuitable for children - violence, sexual assault, etc. (i.e. "viewer discretion advised")

And for some types of content both types of warning may be suitable: e.g. a movie depiction of sexual assault may be unpleasant to many viewers, and also triggering to viewers who have suffered certain kinds of trauma.
posted by theorique at 4:26 AM on May 4, 2016 [1 favorite]


Okay, people are now talking again about pdf warnings, but why? The average Medium link uses more data than the average pdf, so that no longer seems like a good excuse.
posted by anotherpanacea at 5:13 AM on May 4, 2016


You're right- we should add Medium warnings.
posted by zamboni at 5:23 AM on May 4, 2016 [7 favorites]


I'm generally not a fan of *requiring* warnings or giving people shit for not using them, but I think it's a matter of common courtesy, so more 'basic human politeness and compassion about things you know damn well are going to freak someone out or get them into trouble' than a hard and fast rule. It's the internet, though, and if you really have to be super careful about content at work you should probably be figuring out a whitelist solution. I could watch a parade of dancing penises across my screen and I don't think anyone would say boo.

That said, I sure could have used any kind of barrier between me and 'how can I keep my dog's ears after she dies?' Everybody's got their thing that will make them crawl under the bed. And that's just text!

When I'm unsure of a link, and worried I'm going to be traumatized, I read the comments first--that has saved me many, many times. Not with the dogs ears link though! That's just me and a bottle of mental White-Out.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 5:29 AM on May 4, 2016 [2 favorites]


In the off chance that we can squeeze a few more ponies out of pb before he leaves, I think it would be really helpful to add a "Content Warnings (leave blank for none):" box to the post form that functions somewhat like the "Tags:" line but is displayed on mobile devices as well.

Absent that, IMO I think content warnings should be mandatory above-the-fold for posts with links or discussion topics that include known common PTSD triggers. By "mandatory," I mean that it if the OP forgets, it should be standard procedure for a mod, once alerted to the problem, to go back and add a content warning above-the-line. I do NOT mean that the post should be deleted or that the OP should be chastised for forgetting beyond a gentle reminder to please include content warnings for such topics in the future.

Someone with psychological expertise in studying/treating trauma victims can provide a better list, but off the top of my head I'm thinking of common sources of trauma like war, terrorist attacks, sexual assault, child abuse, other violent assaults, animal abuse, racist/sexist/homophobic/transphobic hate speech, suicide, self harm, eating disorders, crippling/gory injuries including traumatic childbirth, and detailed images/descriptions of deaths.

Basically, let's always warn for anything that is known to have a significant probability of re-traumatizing someone with PTSD, because we don't want to inadvertently injure our fellow community members by triggering an acute mental health crisis.

However, I distinguish between PTSD triggers and phobias. While it would be polite to have content warnings for common phobias -- snakes, spiders, clowns, needles, small amounts of blood, heights, claustrophobic spaces, etc. -- and sad (but not violent) stories about dead pets, kids, etc., I don't think those topics need to be policed as diligently. If someone encounters a phobia or sad story, they can just NOPE out of the link/thread, go look at cute animals for a while, and get on with their day without needing to make an emergency appointment with a psychiatrist. (And if they can't just move on after briefly encountering a phobia or sad story, that sensitivity indicates an underlying psychological problem best treated with medication and/or therapy.)

As for those of us with really unusual triggers: Sadly, it just sucks to be us because it's not reasonable for most people to even imagine that someone would be bothered by our triggers much less for us to expect them change their behavior to accommodate us. Personally, I can't be in the vicinity of people playing sports with a ball that is larger and/or harder than a tennis ball without having a full-blown panic attack. (Fortunately it's a strictly IRL phobia -- I can watch such sports on TV without trouble.) But my trigger is so unusual that it's my responsibility to keep an eye out and remove myself from such situations, not for everyone else to stop playing sports in my presence or even announce "We're going to be sportsing now!" just in case someone with my trigger is in the vicinity.

In addition to known common PTSD triggers, we should also probably have mandatory (as I defined above) warnings for NSFW material (by which I mean literally not-safe-for-work -- topless men might not be considered porn, but I still tag them on my own blog as NSFW because most bosses would be displeased to catch you looking at beefcake at work), auto-playing audio, loud noises, and possible epilepsy triggers (are the latter still a thing or did new monitors and/or filters fix that?).

I think the new free-form text box mod flags will help a lot in implementing it, since we can now flag "Other" and type "Needs content warning for animal abuse" or "Needs content warning for nudity."
posted by Jacqueline at 5:33 AM on May 4, 2016 [3 favorites]


A Terrible Lama, I was just coming in to say the same thing about that dog ears question. I REALLY wish the above the fold had been a lot vaguer.
posted by DingoMutt at 7:23 AM on May 4, 2016 [1 favorite]


Related to the eating disorders thing, I can cope with it if I'm prepared for it, but language in which people, especially women, are really critical about their bodies or the bodies of others can be a serious problem for me. Especially if accompanied with pictures/videos. I can't even remember where it came from, but I read something in a story about sororities once about how the girls were demonstrating each others' bodily "flaws" by making them stand in front of the others that has given me nightmares since. Triggering content for eating disorders isn't always strictly related to talking about eating disorders themselves, though that's also potentially a problem.
posted by Sequence at 8:46 AM on May 4, 2016 [1 favorite]


I just wanted to add my vote for preferring good titles and descriptions above the fold to a proliferation of content/trigger warnings.

Outside of NSFW, Autoplay, etc, it's generally easy enough to craft a title/brief description combo that allows folks to understand whether or not the link in question will be problematic for them. It's also pretty much impossible to predict which TW/CWs might be necessary on a given post. I mean - that spider pic is a fuzzy-wuzzy tarantula - not even a whole one: I have a visceral hate of spiders but that pic doesn't bother me in the least.

That being said, sometimes posters aren't sensitive to all of the potentially troubling elements in a link. So, if a number of commenters on any given post bring up the fact that the readers weren't given sufficient heads up by the above-the-fold text, I think that it's reasonable for the mods to add an appropriate TW/CW label.

I also kind of love jokey/snarky TWs on silly posts so I hope they don't end up being discouraged.

Re: PDF warnings - my Android phone is not super elegant about the way it handles PDFs, so I prefer not to follow PDF links on mobile, so I'll admit that I appreciate the PDF tag. That seems like something with a technical solution though, a la the video icon deally, I don't think we need to be leaning on people who don't add them.
posted by sparklemotion at 8:55 AM on May 4, 2016 [2 favorites]


In the off chance that we can squeeze a few more ponies out of pb before he leaves, I think it would be really helpful to add a "Content Warnings (leave blank for none):" box to the post form that functions somewhat like the "Tags:" line but is displayed on mobile devices as well.

I don't see us going in that direction, nor more generally toward any kind of codification or requirement of warnings in posts, much as I get the good intention behind the idea. I think we will be better off encouraging just generally throughtful framing of posts as a matter of course; different folks can approach that by whatever method makes the most sense to them, whether that's a specific warning-type aside to the reader or just clear communication of the content in the natural flow of the post text.

I tend to think about post framing on this front as something where there's a general relationship between how much of an issue the content might be and how obvious the presence of that content should be in a well-framed post. Without making any rules of building functionality for it, the simple idea is this: if there's something troubling in there, try not to bury that in your presentation. The more troubling, the more important that gets.

This ties in to the old "mystery meat" argument: some posts have text that pretty literally describes what's being linked to, and on the far end of the spectrum there's posts where you'd literally have to click (or read the comments in the thread) to have a chance of knowing. And there's everything in between.

And there's been plenty of arguments over the years about folks' differing preferences on that front, and a big chunk of that disagreement is essentially aesthetic: user A prefers clear description, user B prefers playful/abstract framing, user C likes a bit of both equally, etc. And that's fine and we're never, ever going to resolve it because it's a different strokes for different folks thing.

But what we're talking about here is orthogonal to the aesthetic question. It's an ethical one. It's the idea of being responsible to your fellow community members and to lurkers and readers in general. And the more the post you're making involves a known payload that could cause folks trouble, the more aesthetics goes out the window in favor of the ethics. Get less arty and more direct as the need to give folks a fair heads up about the content dictates. Sudden sound or nudity or sexytimes that could cause folks problems browsing at work or in varied conditions? Be sure to mention it. Content is related to trauma or violence of some sort, or has graphic imagery in it? Make that clear somehow in the post.

Basically, be thoughtful, and when posting about more difficult/charged/unsettling stuff let the need to communicate a bit the existence of such stuff behind a link dictate your framing choices even if it butts up against your sense of aesthetics. The details of executing that seem pretty much up to the poster and most folks basically get it right.
posted by cortex (staff) at 9:05 AM on May 4, 2016 [6 favorites]


"You're right- we should add Medium warnings."

CAUTION: Psychics Ahead.
posted by I-baLL at 9:27 AM on May 4, 2016 [4 favorites]


Common sense is just unexamined bias, so it's not really a useful measure.

I know a lot of people in real life with spider phobias, so I've always known that existed, but the only reason I know that people are afraid of PICTURES of spiders is from the internet. It's certainly not a clear and logical thing. It's something you need to tell people if you want them to know, and there are probably plenty of people who don't know that.

Is that a standard thing with phobias, though? Like, people with severe needlephobia react to pictures of needles? That had never occurred to me until it was mentioned here. Do people who are afraid of clowns react to sad clown paintings and children's party invitations? Enough of them to merit warning everyone about it?

I think it'd really help to have an actual list, something that clarifies outright what type of content requires a warning, I guess based on how common various phobias are.

Trigger warnings are different, of course, and much higher priority, but phobia warnings, I really don't have a clear idea what sort of content needs a warning.

And just a reminder: Spiders and insects are animals, so elaborate descriptions of hurting and killing them just for existing is cruelty to animals, and they can be really disturbing to people who don't share those phobias.
posted by ernielundquist at 9:42 AM on May 4, 2016


I add (pdf) by those links when I remember to. I've never had a cell phone that handled them all that well.
posted by zarq at 9:49 AM on May 4, 2016 [1 favorite]


However, I distinguish between PTSD triggers and phobias. While it would be polite to have content warnings for common phobias -- snakes, spiders, clowns, needles, small amounts of blood, heights, claustrophobic spaces, etc. -- and sad (but not violent) stories about dead pets, kids, etc., I don't think those topics need to be policed as diligently. If someone encounters a phobia or sad story, they can just NOPE out of the link/thread, go look at cute animals for a while, and get on with their day without needing to make an emergency appointment with a psychiatrist.

Yeah, this is the really key distinction that I was trying to get at in my comment. Although I feel like a lot of the trigger warning backlash is due to generational/sexist/pull yourself up by your bootstraps/don't be so sensitive crap, I also think the conflation of trigger warnings with content warnings may contribute as well, by diluting the clinical roots of "trigger."

I don't see us going in that direction, nor more generally toward any kind of codification or requirement of warnings in posts, much as I get the good intention behind the idea.

It looks like there is an entry for trigger warnings in the FAQ already, but one thing that it doesn't include is any guidelines about what common triggers might be. Maybe we could expand on that and/or link to this thread so that posters can have a better sense of what kinds of things are most important to warn readers about (or at least things that should be mentioned explicitly at the post even if an actual warning isn't included).
posted by litera scripta manet at 10:54 AM on May 4, 2016 [4 favorites]


CAUTION: Psychics Ahead.

medium at large
posted by zamboni at 11:47 AM on May 4, 2016 [4 favorites]


However, I distinguish between PTSD triggers and phobias. While it would be polite to have content warnings for common phobias -- snakes, spiders, clowns, needles, small amounts of blood, heights, claustrophobic spaces, etc. -- and sad (but not violent) stories about dead pets, kids, etc., I don't think those topics need to be policed as diligently. If someone encounters a phobia or sad story, they can just NOPE out of the link/thread, go look at cute animals for a while, and get on with their day without needing to make an emergency appointment with a psychiatrist.

How do you make that distinction? A person dealing with PTSD based on trauma that involved the loss of a child, or abuse that included confinement might just "[need] to make an emergency appointment with a psychiatrist" if they unexpectedly encounter a story including claustrophobic spaces and/or dead kids. Ditto snakes, blood, heights and the rest. Even if you could determine that A is a trigger but B is "just" a phobia, to say that it's more important to protect people who have debilitating PTSD reactions is more important than protecting people who have debilitating phobic reactions is kind of gross.

Similarly, any judgments made about what the "most common triggers" might be, or "what kinds of things are most important" to warn about are necessarily going to be flawed because they will leave out the triggers of real people who visit the site every day.

So, the onus remains on the post author being clear about what the post involves from the title and description. So we might as well pursue that as the primary means of identifying the contents of links.
posted by sparklemotion at 12:22 PM on May 4, 2016 [1 favorite]


I feel like the trigger warning/content warning distinction is already so hopelessly blurred that attempting to police it is pointless. And as long as the warning states the nature of the problematic content, it doesn't really matter whether it says "trigger warning," "content warning," just "warning," or whatever. The important thing is that people who need to know that there is something in the link that could upset them will know about it and can act accordingly.

Personally I prefer it when people just describe the content in the framing of the post. That's what I did when I posted that video of a woman pulling the hoof off of a disembodied horse foot. Whatever, though—like cortex said above, stylistic preferences aren't really something that it's productive to police either, in the absence of a clear community consensus.

I also agree with folks above who say that it's impossible to know about everything that a person might be upset by, and that the thing to do is just to encourage people to be thoughtful and to err on the side of caution. No matter how cool your link may be to you, it's probably not worth ruining someone's day over.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 5:25 PM on May 4, 2016 [4 favorites]


I appreciate NSFW and animal [sad thing happening] warnings.
posted by turbid dahlia at 5:27 PM on May 4, 2016 [2 favorites]


"Personally I prefer it when people just describe the content in the framing of the post. That's what I did when I posted that video of a woman pulling the hoof off of a disembodied horse foot."

I don't think I ever appreciated a content warning in life as much as I did with that. Completely turned around and fled the other direction (although I did read the comments.)
posted by yueliang at 12:00 AM on May 5, 2016


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