[Trigger warning: trigger warnings]
Confession time: I actually kind of like trigger warnings.
A little over a year ago there was a flurry of media attention around trigger warnings, hardly any of it kind. Warnings heralded the death of academic freedom and represented everything that was wrong with America’s coddled youth, etc., and I bought into it for a bit until I read an argument for them.
I could … imagine good people using trigger warnings to increase their ability to read things that challenge their views. Suppose you are a transgender person who becomes really uncomfortable when you hear people insult transgender people. Gradually you learn that a lot of people outside the social justice community do this a lot, so you stop reading anything outside the social justice community, forget about genuinely rightist sources like National Review or American Conservative. Now suppose sources start trigger warning their content. Most right-wing arguments don’t insult transgender people, so all of a sudden you have a way to steer clear of the ones that do and read all of the others free from fear.
I wasn’t totally convinced by the argument in that post last year, but after regularly visiting places on the interwebs that use content warnings, and seeing how it makes navigating the web more of an enjoyable experience, I’m pretty much converted. There’s still a lot of handwringing over academic freedom — oh hey, Politico and “trigger culture” — and spoiled kids and GREAT LITERATURE IS DEAD!!! but there’s something to be said for politely warning your readers what they’re in for.
This is because the sheer amount of upsetting things on the internet. Writers focus on misogyny, rape, and race, but that’s only a small part of it — I’ve been reading about evolution and genetics lately, and sometimes come across discussions of infanticide. Like look, I’m not a prude, but sometimes I’m just not in the mood to read about evolutionary health and dead babies, yeah? I might even save it for later when I feel more like reading something like that. I imagine most people have strong reactions to discussion of at least some topic, and it’s a nice gesture by the writer to warn the reader.
It also keeps me from crossing certain sites off my list (except for Gawker et al sorry Gawker et al) because I know that I’ll get to choose what I see.