We are not your collateral damage

Being a “lefty”, a student, a feminist, a vegetarian, a disabled person, an LGBT person and a Jew, I find that a lot of my friends have causes that they are passionate about and actively campaign about – not least because almost all of my friends are in at least one of those categories.

And I get that. I really do. I know how it feels to look at some terrible injustice and think “If only people knew this was happening, they’d be so angered and upset they’d just have to do something about it”. I know how urgent it can seem, how important, how necessary. And it is important and those issues that set your heart pounding, the things that get you up in the morning determined to make the world a better place are things that often need more attention and more people working for change…

BUT.

Not at the expense of the health of people like me. Not at the expense of people with mental health problems that can be triggered by seeing distressing images or videos or reading graphic descriptions of violence.

This is really quite, quite simple. Don’t use shocking images to get your point across and if you’re going to use shocking images or graphic descriptions of violence, gore or medical procedures provide a warning so people can choose to opt out of seeing/reading them.

But it’s meant to raise awareness…

That’s not a good enough reason to risk causing serious harm to someone else’s mental health. Some images will cause some people to experience distressing symptoms such as flashbacks, intrusive thoughts, pyschosis or panic attacks and may lead to some people harming themselves. That’s not an acceptable thing to risk – no matter what you’re raising awareness of. You don’t get to decide for other people that your message is more important than their safety – so provide warnings and let people make their own choices about what they can safely see.

But of course it’s distressing! I want to shock people into action…

I’ve heard this excuse a number of times and I get it. You know that images like the one you’re sharing are distressing. You’re pretty upset yourself and you think that seeing the image will move people much more than reading a description of the situation. Heck, you might even be right about that. But getting triggered is not just being upset or distressed and if action is what you want from people as a result of you sharing an image, triggering people is entirely counterproductive. Being triggered involves something causing someone to experience severe negative mental illness symptoms and can often result in that person spending hours or days unable to do anything but try to cope with and recover from those symptoms. I am no use to women’s rights if I am crying in a corner and no use to Palestine if I’m hyperventilating. In the long term, people who have the kinds of mental illness that can be triggered may find ourselves avoiding precisely the kind of activism you want us to get involved in because we are not safe when people around us share potentially harmful images without warnings or attempts to gain consent. We simply can’t stay involved if harming us is seen as somehow acceptable or “collateral damage”.

But it’s for the greater good! / Triggering won’t affect very many people…

If you’re making this argument, take a good long hard look at yourself and think “What kind of person am I? Am I the kind of person who is okay with causing harm to other people to further my aims? Even when those are innocent, uninvolved people who might even genuinely want to help my cause?” Have some compassion, please. If you can further your cause without harming people and you choose to do it in ways that can harm people, I’m not going to think of you as a nice and trustworthy person no matter how good your intentions.

We are not your “collateral damage”. We are not eggs that get broken so you can make your omelette. We are people and we deserve to be able to be online and be involved in activism without other people putting our mental health at risk.

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3 thoughts on “We are not your collateral damage

  1. Pingback: On Trigger Warnings, “academic language” and lefty jargon: | Writings Of A Political Deviant

  2. Pingback: A Representative Sample of Search Terms That Got People to My Blog | yetanotherlefty

  3. Pingback: Second Blog-iversary! | yetanotherlefty

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