The curious case of trigger warnings and why you must use them

Trigger warnings

With an increase in sensitive content being shared online, it is now more important than ever before to use trigger warnings, we explore why.

To be triggered by something means it has brought back a painful memory or ignited a strong feeling in you. This can happen on the consumption of sensitive content on social media. Often, it is not easy to identify a trigger until you have been triggered by something. This is where trigger warnings come into the picture. They are statements that are put up before a piece of content to warn people about what they would see/read/hear if they went ahead with consuming that piece of content.

It is important to use trigger warnings to minimise the damage a piece of content might cause. Effectively, it gives people the chance to make an informed decision about whether or not they wish to proceed to consume the same content. However, when it comes to social media, trigger warnings can be a tricky business, especially in times when most videos auto-play or in an interface where the caption comes after the visual while scrolling.

For videos, it is advisable to add a trigger warning before the actual narrative begins. In the case of a carousel post, one should use the first visual as a trigger warning and place the narrative from the second visual onwards. In the case of textual communication, the trigger warning should be prefixed to the narrative as a warning.

Triggers should be used when talking about death, violence and grief.

You can put a trigger warning by writing TW: death, TW: violence or TW: grief at the beginning of the narrative.

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A case can be made against the use of trigger warnings if one were to look at how some of the most history-defining pictures have been extremely distressing. May it be those that document the impact of a riot or the extremely sad state of affairs of a place stuck in deep-rooted poverty. These images help tell a story — one can even argue that they are impactful because of their triggering nature.

However, this argument cannot take away from the fact that a level of consent is paramount in today’s pandemic-struck world where everyone is trying their best to get through the day. People are managing mental health while processing grief. They could just be scrolling through social media as an escape — and your content could pull them back into the depths of despair.

To conclude, you must always ask yourself a few questions while sharing a sensitive piece of communication on social media, especially when it’s visual in nature:

  • Do I really have to share this?
  • What purpose would this visual serve?
  • Would it be okay if someone shares a similar visual about me?
  • Could this potentially cause someone distress?
  • Does the benefit of sharing this visual outweigh the possibility that it may cause someone distress?