Navigating the internet in the age of ‘TW’

In some publications a “trigger warning” may appear at the beginning of certain articles. These are to warn that the articles contain disturbing themes that may trigger traumatic memories for sufferers. An example of a trigger warning is: “TRIGGER WARNING: This content deals with an account of sexual assault and may be triggering to some people.

From Wikipedia –

Unlike the ubiquitous ‘NSFW’ (not safe for work) warning that generally denotes graphic imagery of some sort, TW often accompanies text post (though it covers the whole gamut of internet content), letting readers know that a difficult and potentially distressing topic is about to come up.

This is a very difficult topic to cover. In recent years, the trigger warning has evolved into a great way to discuss potentially upsetting topics without censorship or restriction, whilst giving people an informed choice on whether they want to continue reading. It’s an idea that I fully support, when it’s used appropriately.

However, now ‘TW’ has become a commonplace concept, I can’t help but feel it has become a form of censorship, that diminishes it’s true purpose.

Recently, I have witnessed a popular YouTuber repeatedly scolded for tweeting an unlabelled Instagram complaining about a cat scratch, because someone who self harmed might have seen it. An American journalist received a barrage of tweets asking him to stop posting links to pictures of food, because he’s followed by people with eating disorders.

As previously stated, this is an incredibly difficult topic to write fairly. It isn’t for me to say what people should and shouldn’t find offensive/upsetting, or what is more important to other people’s lives and well-being. I have always despised articles that claim that this or that online movement has ‘gone too far’ or cares about things too much when this or that cause is more important.

This isn’t about whether trigger warnings for #foodporn are more important for those on rape discussions or whatever. It’s the problem that people are taking the idea of TW and using it to censor the online behaviour of others, especially online influencers such as writers or YouTubers. It’s being used as an insidious form of attack, disguised as educating others on the proper etiquette of the web.


I originally wrote the above paragraphs some time ago, but left this mouldering in my draft folder, unsure as to whether I was taking this in the right direction. However, I recently discovered this article in the New Statesman ‘Why I don’t agree with trigger warnings’ in which writer Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett makes some very similar points to mine, from the point of view of someone with PTSD. It’s a great article, well worth reading.

This kind of online behaviour treads a difficult path. Trigger Warnings are a useful tool in not having to censor topics, but they aren’t an all powerful form of protection, nor are they, as Cosslett points out, a way of telling others how they should feel, think and behave online.


2 thoughts on “Navigating the internet in the age of ‘TW’

  1. Pingback: Creative Assignment #4 | ph11uz

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