Some weeks ago I stumbled on a very disgusting content on my Whatsapp stories and even though the poster had good intentions with the post, it still left me in absolute disgust all day. I’ve been meaning to write about “content warning” for some weeks now but my fight against procrastination isn’t fully won yet.
I try not to blame people for doing what they do, in this case – posting / sharing contents they find “share worthy” on social media. Not finding a content disturbing can often lead to an assumption that others might as well not. But what we fail to recognize is that those who will digest these contents are people with different lives, histories, and struggles that we are not privy to, and can’t always understand.
Social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter do their best to flag or attach content warnings to post containing graphic materials.
Facebook allows graphic violence in cases that raise awareness about issues. However, in such cases Facebook places a warning about graphic content and requires the viewer to be over 18 years of age or older. On adult nudity and sexual activity, it allows nudity if it’s to raise awareness, for educational or medical reasons. However, pictures must be in form of art or drawings.
Twitter always blurs graphic posts and issues a sensitivity warning asking if you’d like to view the post or not.
We must understand that these Social Media giants rely on artificial intelligence (AI) and reports from other users to detect these contents. It’s not 100% guaranteed that they’d detect all graphic contents posted on all their platforms, which means we need to understand and apply content and trigger warnings.
Content warnings are verbal or written notices that precede potentially sensitive content. These notices flag the contents of the material that follows, so readers, listeners, or viewers can prepare themselves to adequately engage or, if necessary, disengage for their own wellbeing.
Trigger warnings are a specific variety of content warning that attempt to forewarn audiences of content that may cause intense physiological and psychological symptoms for people with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and other anxiety disorders. PTSD and other anxiety disorders are real mental health disabilities that have physical, emotional, and mental symptoms that are triggered by stimuli that recalls an individual’s experience of trauma. Individuals do not have control over what triggers them, but many have personal strategies they use to cope with triggers when they must be encountered. Those strategies generally work best when the trigger is expected and can be prepared for in advance of the encounter. Hence the importance of content or trigger warnings: they give people the forewarning necessary for them to make use of the strategies that will decrease the harmfulness of encountering triggering material. These warnings can be as simple as saying, “Warning! This post contains graphic contents”.
I understand images and videos can be powerful tools to describe extremely difficult subjects. And digital cameras, smart phones and emerging storytelling tools make it easier than ever to share a dizzying array of news images but for the sake of diversity in lives, history, struggles, mental state and experiences, we just have to watch what we share online and give warnings when it’s necessary to share graphic contents.
Written by:- Anthony Emebo
Digital Skills Trainer, Lagos, Nigeria
Facebook: Godson-Emebo Anthony