The Problem With Trigger Warnings

Ninoska Esther
Ninoska Esther

Trigger warnings demand a universal reaction. This assumption is damaging because when we agree to the notion that everyone reacts the same way, context collapses and the intent of the message is flattened. While trigger warnings prepare us for the unknown, they are also a form of censorship that condemns the extremes of what is being said. When we are left to draw our own conclusions and debate freely, without feeling our capacity to do so is limited by trigger warnings; we challenge the authority in censorship.

There is a wide amount of information online that is available through the spoken and written word. Access in general, though scarcely universal, has become paramount. The internet has become a stage of witness that permits space for hard realities to be shared, to be sympathized with and to demand better. We cannot afford to be a passive audience in these times.

We need to question more and be open to all opinions. This concept of deliberate discourse comes from trying to create spaces for dialogue and not minimize them through things like trigger warnings which only limit our engagement to be compassionate and yet critical of hard realities. When it comes to censorship of content, we are also censoring ourselves from questioning the uncomfortable and participating in conversations that have the potential to rally positive change and affirmative action.

Acting passively within dialogue makes us subject to bystander culture. We read and draw our own conclusions but we don’t share them as freely as we should because trigger warnings encourage us to view the content as a sensitive topic. Our cross-cultural scope is compromised when we are left to keep our responses quiet, or justify an honest reply with yet another trigger warning. When we do this, we make the sphere of open dialogue smaller and perpetuate recycled pity instead of urgency in cases of extreme violence.

Unfortunately, despite the massive occupation trigger warnings have taken on the internet, they do not solve any issue. In fact they can make testimonies dangerous. The voices that are rising shouldn’t be shielded from their transparency and raw integrity that make them something stronger. Hardly a spectacle- we shouldn’t treat them as victims or their stories as half-told truths with a protective coating. The realities in their entirety should be shared without consequence or warning – so not to inhibit any other kind of censored reaction.

This is not to undermine the risks associated with offending people through graphic or uncomfortable content. Often, responses are unexpected and can be the source of aggravated contention. But nonetheless, the reality is that this frenzy of trigger warnings has done more harm than good. It is flawed engagement that sits unprovoked and unchallenged because we are shifting the focus in debate from the censored issue to us being censored ourselves.

In the end, there is a choice that we have to make – whether or not to accept trigger warnings as a defense against understanding hardline, uncomfortable truths.

There are real horrors that take place in the world and we are failing ourselves when we generate tailored responses that fail to acknowledge triggers are different for everyone, and therefore the reactions are too. We can stand tall in unity despite having different voices. In the movement to stop the violence that encourages trigger warnings to be written, it is imperative that our honesty is not sugar-coated or simplified.

Censorship is not without its challenges and the authority that monitors types of censorship should not continue forward unquestioned. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

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