Investigating Social Media Users’ Perceptions on Trigger and Content Warnings

Trauma is the physical, emotional, or psychological harm caused by deeply distressing experiences. With increased online interactions, social media content can trigger existing trauma and even retraumatize a person. Some platforms add content warnings related to common triggers like self-harm, violence, suicidal thoughts, etc. Similarly, some users add trigger warnings to posts dealing with sensitive content, but there are no universal ways that social media platforms handle these warnings and most platforms rely on users to add warnings for their posts (whether text, photo, video, or some combination of these). 

The misunderstanding of how trigger and content warnings should be handled may be leading people to not use them at all, possibly making social media a more dangerous place for sensitive users who may be triggered or made uncomfortable by certain content. There have been studies on trigger warnings and content warnings in classrooms but there is a gap in the academic literature on the rising use of trigger and content warnings in the social media context.

This project studies people’s perceptions of trigger warnings and content warnings on social media and relates these perceptions with existing concepts in the literature. Based on how they are perceived, we look at the limitations and misunderstandings in the current practices that users have relating to trigger warnings and content warnings on social media. We are conducting semi-structured interviews to focus on qualitative insights to answer these questions. Based on insights, we plan to further investigate how the existing social media platforms provide features that can protect users from triggering content and contrast this with features that social media users say they want.

Team members: Muskan Gupta, Emily Altland

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