On Trigger Warnings

Trigger warnings are a fairly new thing that have divided a number of people. If you haven’t seen them on the net already, they’re basically a conversational version of the warning before a TV show advising of sex, violence and all the good stuff.

Trigger warnings are a way of saying “I have something to say, but I don’t want to freak you out, so here’s a heads up if you have problems with this”. You’re letting someone know in advance that something you have to say might make them uncomfortable, or trigger a reaction in them to give them the option of whether they will choose to listen or read it.

I’ve seen plenty of people reacting to trigger warnings calling it ‘censorship’ or ‘babying’. The argument is that free speech means that someone can say what they want, and if you don’t like it, then it’s your problem. The obvious problem with this argument is that free speech only relates to the Government applying sanctions to what you say, and it doesn’t override the right of others to express their own speech in a dissenting opinion, or the right of another to feel safe.

If anything, a trigger warning helps with free speech. If I wanted to talk about something that will likely trigger someone, announcing a trigger warning before hand shifts the burden from me to watch for what I’m saying, to those who would be triggered. In a way, it’s all win-win.

I will admit to seeing a limit to where we should be warning people. Discussing events that quite commonly cause post-traumatic stress disorder is a given. However, there are things that are very common and not generally harmful that just make people uncomfortable that I would argue don’t need a trigger warning unless you know specifically that someone is triggered. I’m talking about squicks (something that you have a personal revulsion to).

Tumblr has this quite commonly. I’ve seen posts that are tagged with trigger warning for food, because someone has had a squick for food. That’s where I draw the line. People need to eat, a lot of people enjoy it quite a bit. If you have a personal revulsion toward food, then that’s your problem. Being made to feel uncomfortable about something isn’t relatable to having to relive one of the worst moments of one’s life (of course there are exceptions to each rule, but you need to know the circumstances to understand).

Leave a Reply