As it becomes increasingly easier to find content of all kinds on the internet, many argue for the importance of trigger or content warnings to ensure that viewers are staying safe online. Content warnings, however, are not the answer to online safety and can potentially have the exact opposite effect of their intent.
The infamous “Parental Advisory” label shown on album covers was originally intended to steer children away from explicit content. At first, it worked, but soon after, teens discovered that all they had to do to look for inappropriate music was to seek out a “Parental Advisory” label.
In his video “The Weird History of Parental Advisory and The Music Industry,” YouTuber Entertain the Elk explains, “It (the Parental Advisory label) quickly became a sign for rebellion as well. Artists began utilizing the Parental Advisory label to their advantage, it became a badge of honor, and it also became a marketing tool.”
Entertain The Elk also mentioned that t-shirts with the advisory label became popular in the ’90s, which was another sign of rebellion and mockery towards the original intent of the labels.
Aside from these examples, the plethora of content warnings around the internet can lead to the desensitization of viewers. Legitimately offensive content will be lost in the sea of mislabeled inoffensive content. Content warnings are only useful if they are built for a specific type of person who will be offended by specific things.
People who have witnessed or experienced horrific events may become triggered by some media content, which can have serious, adverse effects. But content warnings are not the way to protect against these situations; reading a simple review can forewarn about media content.
If someone is worried that there are offensive or triggering scenes or images, instead of referencing content warnings, they can use a reliable review resource like Common Sense Media. Aside from this site, there are plenty of other reviews for nearly every movie, TV show, and even books that a prospective consumer can view before engaging with content that may potentially be triggering.
Preventing offense is just a matter of researching what one is about to see instead of relying on built-in warnings. Content warnings are unnecessary and audiences should reference external sites to see whether or not what they are consuming is right or appropriate for them, or find alternatives.