Tue 1 Nov 2022 7:24AM

Specificity of language regarding content warnings

JC juniper cameryn Public Seen by 103

Hi everyone. I was reviewing our code of conduct and feel that the language regarding content warnings is pretty vague. I realize looking back I missed the opportunity last year to participate in a conversation going over the code of conduct (I was home with my kid and busier then) but nonetheless think it's likely we'll continue to grow with the way things seem to be going on meta and twitter and we might benefit from looking at this in particular.

My main concern is around the language of distressing content likely to be hurtful to others. Distressing content is likely to vary from person to person. I kind of worry such vague language could present some issues down the line, if distress alone is the bar, it could be leveraged in bad faith or in a way that's disruptive to what feels like a free and open environment if that makes sense. 

Personally I think it's important to balance a level of self-responsibility in terms of managing personal distress tolerance because I feel strongly about open self-expression, barring of course detailed graphic content and outright abusive, harassing, cruel etc behavior. I think that "includes discussions or depictions of violence, sexually explicit material, and/or common PT triggers" covers that fairly well but might benefit from some more exploration or specificity. For instance there are many common triggers and anticipating, or being expected to remember and accommodate all of them feels unreasonable to me.

Perhaps it would be helpful to also include expectations around personal distress management and practicing differentiation with one another. And responsibility to use functions that protect one from content one doesn't wish to see. I think having that specificity could help avoid potential conflicts and set a clearer bar around what's expected.

I'm curious to hear people's thoughts on this.


Doug Belshaw Tue 1 Nov 2022 8:08AM

"For instance there are many common triggers and anticipating, or being expected to remember and accommodate all of them feels unreasonable to me."

I'm not sure how to respond to this. It sounds sociopathic?


juniper cameryn Tue 1 Nov 2022 8:10AM

What does?


juniper cameryn Tue 1 Nov 2022 8:13AM

Also would you mind not using inflammatory and pathologizing langage in reference to my concerns? This is a completely reasonable concern and if you'd like to engage with me from a place of curiosity I'd be happy to expand on it.


Doug Belshaw Tue 1 Nov 2022 8:24AM

OK, do you have a specific example of a CW you feel isn't necessary? Can you explain why?


juniper cameryn Tue 1 Nov 2022 8:39AM


So I've had experiences in online groups/communities that leverage expectations like these in controlling and abusive ways. For instance they expect you to remember every single little trigger. Like if someone was bitten by a dog they'd expect you to always TW for dog. Or if someone didn't like pictures of children because it reminded them of being a child and suffering abuse they'd expect you to TW for kids. Or someone said birds reminded them of their abuser. If you didn't you would be chastised and demonized and people would have harassment and cancel campaigns launched at them and they'd be dogpiled onto. I know it sounds extreme but it was very real.

This has actually been pretty common in some leftist Facebook groups and places like that. And that level of hypervigilance when posting is absolutely not sustainable or accessible for me (both having ADHD, and having recovered from PTSD and OCD, not to mention it just isn't likely sustainable for most people to have to anticipate and remember any tiny little thing- like cars have been triggering to me since my granddad died in a car accident earlier this year but I don't expect people to just never talk about cars or cw every time they do).

My concern is that as people choose to leave places like Twitter and Facebook that they may bring some of those expectations with them. And I am not comfortable with that. It's not that I don't care about other's distress it's that such hypervigilance is not healthy or sustainable and we are all responsible to some degree to manage our own wellness. Whether we use features on mastodon to block words, hide users, or just work on our personal distress tolerance.


Doug Belshaw Tue 1 Nov 2022 8:47AM

OK, so that's extremely useful context 👍

My suggestion, FWIW, would be to set minimum expectations around CWs, suggest some common-sense cultural norms, and give examples of other ways in which CWs are sometimes used ('long post', for example)


juniper cameryn Tue 1 Nov 2022 8:49AM

Absolutely. I think that kind of clarity would be really useful.


Aaron Wolf Thu 3 Nov 2022 5:09PM

At this time, I don't find a whole-body-yes to reliably helping with making the concrete updates. I do have some thoughts to share, and I want to express my appreciation for the topic and for @juniper cameryn expressing the concerns and nuances so well. This is related to the need for CoC's to be adaptable, designed for restorative and transformative justice and not trying to treat human beings like computer programs. We need to accept some amount of fuzziness. Attempts to craft the perfect rules will never succeed. We need clear guidance that facilitates everyone's interactions effectively.

To be more concrete: I urge that it be explicit that we accept the likelihood that some posts will trigger some people. We do not want to preemptively avoid all problems. We need to focus on what happens when there is a problem. It needs to start with people owning our reactions, being willing to speak unarguably. E.g. "I saw the post and felt some strong constriction" is unarguable owning of experience compared to "your post is offensive" is overly assertive and broad. And still, no matter the quality of someone's response to a post, the poster has the responsibility to adapt and learn, to address the situation thoughtfully. I believe that it's extremely common for people to get really constricted around having their posts flagged, so the approach needs to be sensitive to that, to support posters through learning and adapting rather than feeling themselves attacked.

I'm all for a reasonable and always-evolving set of guidelines for CW's as long as the focus remains on the always-evolving human dynamic and not on the guidelines treated overly pedantically.

So, I don't want a dichotomy between blocking/hiding vs work-on-distress-tolerance. Ideally, blocking/hiding is a tool used almost always in a temporary fashion to cut off drama, and then with facilitated support for everyone learning all we can (including distress-tolerance as well as sensitivity and so on), updated posts can be welcomed. Blocking/hiding should be IMO the start of the process rather than the end.

Unfortunately, tools are nor set up for this optimally, nor are common expectations. Hiding/blocking is so commonly the final escalated step that people find it extremely threatening. In my ideal vision though, people would come to welcome hiding/blocking as the pause that enables an effective and efficient restorative process that everyone ends up feeling grateful for. Ideally, everyone understands that the outcome is going to be fine and have just greater understanding and a fresh start and no "marks" on anyone, no escalated warnings. If my post gets hidden, it allows the situation to get resolved with compassion and understanding and without threat of me being part of some divisive drama. The expectation should be that the person who had concerns will remain engaged or delegate engagement to someone else so that the process doesn't stall. I could end up with post that goes back up, improved as needed, and a new meaningful understanding and connection with those who reacted to my post.


juniper cameryn Thu 3 Nov 2022 7:34PM

Yeah I think there being an explicit piece that names that there's nuance there. I mean, I think just in the cooperative values it alludes to this- that personal responsibility is a guideline/expectation of engagement in the space and with one another. I am personally very fond of the language of differentiation because it's all about our responsibility to soothe ourselves when we're distressed. That encompasses our responsibility to stand up for the things that are really important to us, our responsibility to assess what our responsibility is and where we can be flexible to accommodate a larger vision (be that cooperation, cohesion, plurality, etc). I would love it if something like this was more explicit in the CoC. It's flexible enough to accommodate all sorts of ways conflicts can play out and it gives language to a dual responsibility to self and other- without going too heavy on either one where we take on responsibility for helping others avoid all distress, but also knowing there are places we're going to need to adapt if we want a solid community.


Aaron Wolf Fri 4 Nov 2022 2:46AM

Yes! IMO, the goal is not to avoid distress happening, the goal is to know that distress happened so it can be a learning experience.

The CoC should be evaluated not by the frequency of distress but by the percentage of distress that is acknowledged, processed, and resolved — ideally with transformative insights, ways for the participants and community to continue growing and improving, not only that the immediate distress is relieved.

We will never run out of sources for potential distress. May we get so good at processing distress that we are a community with ever-growing capacity to successfully manage ever-more-challenging distress (because everyone feels stable and trusting enough with the simple things).

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