CW as Consent
I think a lot of our talk about #consent is geared towards sexual situations and preventing sexual violence, which is not bad, just incomplete. While incomplete, the same sort of standards can apply. I have written, very generally, about online consent: here. But here is a quote, breaking down consent:
To put it simply, consent is giving permission to someone, for something. This is very vague, but it is a good starting point for building understanding. It also shows how much consent can be applied to: is the “something” a hug, sex, a meal together, giving your data to someone or some company, a conversation with a stranger, or something else? Different people have tried to categorize different types of consent (i.e. express/explicit consent, implied consent, informed consent, or even “opt-out” consent [which I find to be the opposite of consent]) but because consent is contextual, as the situation changes consent should be revisited as needed.
As I covered in my previous post about sexual consent:
- Consent is about communication
- Consent is informed or specific
- Consent is mutual
- Consent is voluntary or freely given
- Consent is reversible
- Consent should be affirmative or enthusiastic
Consent is something we should be focusing on in our interactions with others, both offline and online. We are often so bombarded with horrible news online without our consent, we forget that we have tools on Fediverse to put control back into our own hands if we want to see and read something that may trigger us or otherwise put us in a bad head space.
It is not a good or valid plan to trigger yourself and others inter hyper-vigilance just to try to stay informed. This is not sustainable.
Think of the CW as a subject line, giving the topics that people may want to know about before consenting to engage. Not everyone should be reading about mass death and disablement every second of their lives—this does not mean we should ignore everything happening, it means we should be more specific and conscious of what we are consuming, how often, and how it impacts us emotionally/psychologically:
Secondary Trauma occurs when one reads or hears about trauma, and the person who did not personally experience the trauma becomes traumatized. You can read more about it in another post I wrote about trauma and secondary trauma: here.
Secondary Trauma acts exactly like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. You absolutely can traumatize and trigger others just by reading and sharing news stories of the world today without any warning. Would you consent to that?
I am not advocating for ignoring everything. I am advocating for some community protection, community kindfulness, community care, community consent in the form of a small CW subject.
Now, I will take some time to break down some topics into what I believe are informed and specific CW subjects, but not detailed. The details are what triggers people, usually. You can read more about the human stress response and how triggers form: here.
In the context of news and politics, an old common CW was “(Country Abreviation) Pol or News”. An example: USPol, US News
This provides context for folks to know if this horrible thing you’re talking about is actually even happening anywhere near them.
The next step is to be specific, but not detailed, about any potentially triggering topics. This can be tricky, since different people are triggered by different things, but it is important to try your best and remember that no one will ever get it all right.
Did someone die? Include “death”, “murder”, “suicide”, or a combination in your CW subject. Were there guns? Include that. Were there drugs or alcohol involved, or are images of them in the post? Include that. Was it police brutality, or other institutional violence (i.e. evictions, arrests, etc.)? Include that. Are people being targeted? Include that (racism, transphobia, antisemitism, ableism, etc.). Is it sexual violence? Say that. Is there nazi or other fascist imagery? Include that.
A variety of CW subjects might read:
- “USPol, murder, police brutality and racism”
- “USPol, transphobia and homophobia, sexual violence/assault”
- “sexual assault/rape, police brutality and incompetence”
- “death, suicide, guns”
- “unmasked eating out during pandemic, drugs and alcohol”
- “celebrity death”
- “FediBlock, nazi imagery/symbolism”
- “abortion, mental health”
- “mental health, suicidal ideation”
- “dieting and food talk”
- “food, meat”
- “emoji spam, bad for screen readers”
- “ASCII art, bad for screen readers”
- “selfies, eye contact”
- “Why did the chicken cross the road? (joke)”
- “TOTK spoilers”
- “bugs” or “spiders”
As you can see, none of the above go into detail about what the post or link shared contains—this is important. While the subjects may sound harsh, they should not be as harsh and detailed as the post itself as it is just there to serve as a wright of consent, a gentle warning about the potential horrors to come.
A CW that is specific allows folks to know what they are about to get into, and consent to reading on by clicking the CW and lifting the overlay.
Now, while drugs and alcohol can be used recreationally, including a CW is for our struggling or sober siblings. Food CW can help those fasting, food insecure, or those with dietary issues to consent to seeing/reading about things about food they don’t want to see. Eye contact CW are for our anxious or paranoid folks who find it unsettling, or downright terrifying, to have so many eyes/faces staring at them as they scroll, and may only want to consent to opening a few.
Commonly on the Fediverse, people use tone indicators and abbreviations, as the CW subject takes characters from the character count to fill.
Common tone indicators include, but are not limited to: “+” for positive things, “-” for negative things, and “~” for neutral, or a mix. Folks may also include emoji’s such as “do not at”, “do not like”, “do not boost”, or their opposites (advice welcome, boosts and likes encouraged) for indicating how they’d like others to respond to their post.
Common abbreviations are: “ph” for physical health, “mh” for mental health, the aforementioned abbreviation for news (“USPol”, as an example), “ec” for eye contact in images, and probably others. Some folks include a pinned post of their common abbreviations.
I would really encourage people to familiarize themselves with the filter function, as well as being more specific in their CW subjects. With filters, you can create a list of words or phrases, and filter them from the timeline sort of like a CW. You can have them show up in the timeline with the title of the list from which it pulled the filtered word, or completely remove them from the timeline. You can set timers for the filter to turn off, and customize where the words will be filtered (which timelines, in replies, etc.) if it is not a topic you absolutely never want on your timeline again.
Not everyone uses the same verbage for everything, so CW become a great tool to protect others and be thoughtful and kind (kindful, as I like to say) as a poster.
Framing CW as consent, for me, makes me more likely to CW even things I do not struggle with to allow others to consent to seeing/reading those things in their timeline.
If you’re ever not sure if something needs a CW: just add one. CW are not removing your posts from view or removing the ability to boost, so please use them freely—even for things not triggering! Spoilers, jokes, long posts.
A good rule of thumb is if the topic does not impact you, put a CW on it, and do not ask those who are targeted to CW the subject should they choose not to.
Again, this is not a perfect formula, or even a set of rules. This is to serve as a guideline, and hopefully a spot to stop and think about your CW use and to try to do more for others who are struggling with their drop off in use.
We keep us safe.