Many social justice and humans rights issues have been on the forefront of political discourse and concern since Donald Trump’s inauguration in 2016 – from immigration policy, the horrors occurring within U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention centers, and the safety of sex workers, to what has in the last month been widely-reported as a Republican attempt to reverse the ruling of Roe vs. Wade–the landmark abortion rights Supreme Court case passed in 1973.
It’d take nothing less than a real-life Excalibur to even scratch the surface of the myriad human rights issues the current administration has moved to undermine, if not blatantly attack.
And where do many people, particularly younger generations, flock to voice their frustrations? Facebook. Instagram. Twitter. Even Tiktok.
Unlike non-digital forums for communication that preceded the rise of Web 2.0, people with access to social media have a greater availability to voice and broadcast their thoughts on demand.
For those who follow emerging political developments, this offers convenience and efficiency–if not always accuracy. There are people who are furious, frustrated, scared, impassioned–and at the end of the day, probably numb and burn-out.
A problem that arises with incessant news broadcasting on social media is when people mistake signaling an awareness of current events with political activism. One phrase that’s been thrown around to describe this phenomenon is performative wokeness. That is,frequently sharing threads of horrific news stories with images and content detailing the most disturbing news of the day – and believing this earns the person activist brownie points because it presumably demonstrates, Hey! At least I care!
Well. Some people giving off this #sowoke vibe may have good intentions; however, they fail to comprehend how tiring, triggering, or frightening it can be to have numerous stories of brutality come across one’s social media feed in a single hour, every hour.
Other people, still, may not know how else to express their own personal distress about what’s going on. Stigma is a common barrier to seeking support for mental health struggles and trauma, and many people find it comforting to turn to social media as a supportive outlet.
Blocking, unfollowing, or stepping away from social media are all potential solutions—but on a long-term basis, this may also be isolating. And still, others may not have the luxury of being able to stay off social media, if—for instance—their line of work requires maintaining a social media presence.
Coming across strings of posts about abortion rights being threatened, sexual assault, death, and other human rights concerns can wreak serious emotional havoc on people, particularly those with a history of trauma. So while you may think you’re demonstrating your allyship by sharing ten different articles about recent suffering, there’s a decent chance you may be inflicting more harm than good.
One way people might demonstrate greater allyship and consideration for diverse experiences is approach social media activity and consumption from a trauma-informed perspective.
What Does It Mean To Be Trauma-Informed?
The term trauma-informed was first coined as “an organizational structure and treatment framework that involves understanding, recognizing, and responding to the effects of all types of trauma”.
Trauma-informed care, an extension of this concept, has also been widely applied within medical and behavioral health spaces in order to acknowledge the high prevalence of traumatic experiences — e.g. childhood neglect, domestic violence, sexual violence, and other adverse experiences — the population and their impact within the context of our everyday lives.
For a long time, trauma responses were most widely recognized within the context of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) diagnosed in wartime veterans. In recent decades, however, there have been increased efforts to raise awareness of how PTSD can manifest in non-veteran populations, and how trauma can have an extensive impact on daily well-being and quality of life.
Adopting a trauma-informed approach in a personal or professional capacity involves recognizing how certain words, behaviors, and actions can trigger physical and emotional responses in people with histories of trauma. This can also extend to otherwise marginalized communities, in which living under oppressive systems and structures can itself be a chronic form of trauma.
Trauma can impact each person differently, even among people who have experienced the same form of trauma. One person’s reaction to a sensitive topic or trigger can differ greatly from that of another person, based on a number of personal, cultural, and environmental factors.
Trauma survivors may not always share their histories with others either, or necessarily feel comfortable broadcasting their triggers, even within their closest social circles. No one owes a responsibility to disclose their experiences of trauma. This can be uncomfortable for some people, even unthinkable for others, and it’s mistaken to feel entitled to that kind of information.What’s important is acknowledging that the lived experiences of people are complex, and having a willingness to understand and listen.
As a young, white woman myself, there are various privileges I possess as they concern my racial, socioeconomic, and educational background, and this affects my role in broader social, cultural, and political spheres. This also affects my ability to empathize with certain experiences.
Acknowledging my privilege doesn’t dismiss aspects of my identity that are marginalized, nor does it diminish my own personal struggles. It simply recognizes where aspects of my identity and background are situated in the broader context of struggles I don’t and cannot share.
How Can a Trauma-Informed Approach be Applied to Social Media Practices?
Taking to social media to share responses to current news and events has become a common practice. Social media gives many people a sense that they have a voice. It also allows for people to share information quickly and widely.
Unfortunately, this also makes it easier to share news that:
- may be false
- depicts sensitive or graphic material that can be triggering for some people to see on their feed, especially if the same stories are shared by various followed accounts
Now, this piece isn’t a demand to censor everything you post that could be perceived as upsetting or triggering. The fact of the matter is that we can’t control the reactions of others – only our own. And sharing news, again, can often be a way for people to express their perspectives on issues important to them, such as LGBTQ+ rights, taxation, police violence, and more.
But there’s also a point that can be reached where sharing tens of articles a day about how conservative Republicans believe the death penalty is appropriate for people who get abortions, for instance, or how miscarriage should be criminalized, is too much.
The same can be said for horrific or gruesome stories about police violence, mass shootings, rape and sexual assault, and anything else along a similarly emotionally-charged vein.
While it can be cathartic for some people to share these stories as a matter of importance, consider how upsetting it might be for people who have an actual stake in these stories to be continuously bombarded with hostile, distressing headlines.
Demonstrating some common sense is mightier than the pen (or, keyboard) and the sword.
Your curated social media is ultimately of your own design and is a decision you can make for yourself. But consider how there might be a better way document your distress than to streamline waves of upsetting news stories without a second thought.
Strategies For Being A Trauma-Informed Ally Online
One way you can indicate the sensitivity of shared content is to add a trigger warning or content warning (TW/CW) at the top or beginning of the post where it can easily be seen by readers. This relays to people who follow your posts that there is content discussed that may be upsetting for some viewers.
The most effective way to do this is to specify the type of triggering content, so people with certain triggers can know to scroll past or otherwise be warned—e.g. tw: death; tw: abortion; tw: sexual assault.
It can also be worthwhile to find other avenues for expression. Post in a group chat, talk to friends or family, participate in community organizing events, or hash it out with a therapist.
Bringing a trauma-informed approach to social media isn’t censorship. Under formal and informal guidelines about social media usage, you have the right to say or share whatever you want. Nonetheless, you must also keep in mind that other people also have the right to react in whatever way they please
This isn’t about ‘don’t do this’ or ‘don’t do that.’ This is simply an appeal to be mindful of how what you share can affect others. This is an appeal to basic kindness and humanity – not a demand.
You can read this post and take none of it to heart. I’ll never know, unless you comment to tell me. Take from this what you wish, leave what you don’t. I only urge personal reflection, but that’s something each person has to decide for themselves based on their own values and belief system.