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The Art of Being Considerate: Content Warnings and Proper Use

Have you ever seen posts where they start with “CW: r*pe mention, drug use” or something to that effect?

It started out using “Trigger Warnings” which after getting made fun of to no end eventually became “Content Warnings.”

Content warnings are generally used in safe space groups or pages on the Internet. You’ll see it mostly in social justice circles. These communities are typically geared towards creating an inclusive environment where members can feel safe to post without having to deal with the additional stress of a traumatic memory.

Trigger warnings were somewhat limited because they implied all these things would “trigger” people. Triggering is generally a term reserved for people with PTSD and certain topics may induce a flashback or otherwise relive the experience in a negative and impactful way.

Content warnings are just to serve as a heads up, and do not make any assumptions about anyone’s mental health status. By giving a content warning, you are giving people the opportunity to choose whether or not it is a topic they wish to engage in.

Every community has a different list of topics that are required to have Content Warnings. My best advice is to think about what you’re writing. Are there any common phobias? Drug use? Violence? Things that are generally known to cause large amounts of distress to people? Then you should add it.

There seems to be a lot of pressure to use the “right ones.” However, I feel like you can’t. All you can do is try your best, and promptly put up any content warnings when asked by an admin or other user.

Do not make jokes about content warnings, as that will get you promptly banned. “CW: Implied Halloween” was one I saw once.

I’ve talked a little bit about a “safe space” in this article, but have failed to properly explain it. These are are spaces where marginalized people who often times do not get a chance to speak, are allowed a place to feel safe, free from toxic behaviours so they can feel safe to express themselves without such things impeding them.

That said, the Internet is not a safe space. It is a dangerous space. Expecting any “safe space” to always be 100% safe is unrealistic. The common argument is that “the internet is a rough place, we shouldn’t coddle these people.”

I understand that some of these content warnings seem ridiculous, and it is unrealistic to have an expectation of safety trying to have a safe space has good intentions. They might be ridiculous to you, but to others may induce a mind-state that leads to a dangerous situation.

You say they should “toughen up.”

This isn’t about censoring opinions, it’s about being sensitive to the needs of others. It is basic empathy, and the first step towards building a healthy and productive discourse.

In practice, “leftbook” and other safe spaces may not have lead to the most productive discussions. See Laci Green’s Red Pill:

The idea is to create a healthy environment for discussions to thrive. To give the oppressed a place to speak. To give marginalized individuals a place they can exist freely. Topically, it might seem like censorship, but it’s really supposed to be about allowing those who usually do not get a chance to speak, a chance to speak. That’s an important thing to have.

I do think that, in practice, perhaps we should re-evaluate. I’m not sure what would be more effective. But I do know that for now I will use content warnings where applicable and when asked for. I generally will be putting them after the gap, so as not to interfere with the beauty that is the headline.




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