Podcasts & Trigger Warnings

Trigger warnings. The mere mention of this term causes some people to roll their eyes. For other people, it’s an important and appreciated concept. So what do you do if you need a trigger warning, and what should we expect from the people making podcasts?

Why the controversy?

Merriam-Webster defines a trigger warning as “a statement cautioning that content may be disturbing or upsetting.” There are dozens upon dozens of more extensive definitions of this term, as well as history about its origin, but I’ll leave it at that.

Trigger Warning for Baylor Rape Article
An example of a trigger warning used on Twitter

A lot of people think that trigger warnings are unnecessary and that people who have sensitivities to unpleasant or upsetting content should just “deal.” (“Sensitivities” includes individuals with diagnosed mental health conditions, including post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD).

trigger warning criticism
An example of trigger warning criticism on Twitter

I listen to a LOT of podcasts, from all different types of people and production companies. Due to the quantity of podcasts I listen to, I often run across a lot of unpleasant stories or conversations. But not every podcaster includes a trigger warning. Some just plain don’t think of including them, I suspect because, for them personally, the content doesn’t cause negative emotions.

My Stance

I don’t have a problem with trigger warnings in podcasts. I don’t fault a host for including them, or for not including them.

Personally, I don’t have any deep-rooted emotions or trauma that are easily triggered. But that doesn’t mean I don’t sometimes turn a podcast off, or skip ahead, when there’s something that makes me uncomfortable.

Last week, I listened to an episode of StartUp, a podcast about business and entrepreneurs. I’ve listened to all four seasons of this podcast, and I’m currently halfway through Season 5. I’ve never found an episode of this show to be disturbing, even with last season’s abundant talk about sexual harassment. But the episode I listened to last week included audio of a terrified squealing pig, which made me uncomfortable and I had to hit the skip ahead button.

StartUp didn’t include a trigger warning, and I don’t think they needed to. I skipped ahead and recovered quickly. But every listener is different. We all have different experiences from which we draw emotion, and podcasters can’t possibly know which parts of their shows will create discomfort or emotional stress for each listener.

A show that often includes trigger warnings (although they don’t always use that term) is Stuff You Missed In History Class. Often, the  hosts will prep you for disturbing content at the beginning of the show, and then alert you just before they discuss it, so you can skip ahead 30 seconds or more. Now that I think about it, SYMIHC would have included a trigger for the squealing pig.

Tricky Business

The podcasting industry has been exploding for a couple of years now, and there aren’t any hard and fast rules for podcasters. I don’t hold it against a host or producer if they fail to provide me with certain information before an episode, but I can see how other listeners might find it irresponsible. Media is a tricky business, and podcasts are just one cog in the wheel.

Do you think trigger warnings should be an essential part of a podcast? Leave a comment below and share your thoughts.

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