What does "TW" Mean, and Why Should You Use It?




You may have come across tweets on Twitter or posts on Facebook that start out with the letters "TW." What does this stand for, and why should you consider using it?



What does "TW" mean?

TW means "trigger warning." It is a courtesy extended to others who may view your content on social media when your post is potentially an emotional trigger.

Geek Feminism Wiki describes trigger warnings as:

"Trigger warnings are...designed to prevent people who have an extremely strong and damaging emotional response (for example, post-traumatic flashbacks or urges to harm themselves) to certain subjects from encountering them unaware. Having these responses is called "being triggered."

The Urban Dictionary describes it as:

"Used to alert people when an internet post, book, article, picture, video, audio clip, or some other media could potentially cause extremely negative reactions (such as post-traumatic flashbacks or self-harm) due to its content. Sometimes abbreviated as "TW."


Psychotherapist Alicia Paz, M.A., LLC mentions the use of TW in tweets in this way:

"Although the DSM IV-r criteria for Borderline Personality Disorder does not include trauma, it is often a common thread in those with the disorder.  Often on Twitter I see a tweet started with "TW" (trigger warning) before something that may be triggering, it's a safety boundary for many in the BPD community.  In DBT we strictly enforce the rules about saying things that can be triggers, sometimes those who don't have BPD don't realize how harmful what they say can be, sometimes people try to stir up some drama and some are so disconnected from their trauma they don't understand how someone could be hurt by what they are saying."    

The Challenges of Using TW:

We've all come across that tweet that made us feel a sudden flood of anxiety or disbelief. We wish we had never read it, as we now feel emotionally affected by it. Wouldn't it be nice if there were a code for warning others that our post may be upsetting so that they have the choice to read on or pass it over if they are feeling particularly vulnerable? There is.

By putting the letters TW at the beginning of your tweet or post and spreading awareness as to what this means, we help create a safer, more courteous space to connect with others who may be suffering. 

There are some challenges around using TW, of course, and they include but are not limited to:

  • Forgetting to use the label when in the heat of Emotion Mind
  • Being willful and deciding that it's not important to extend this courtesy in a community setting
  • Not caring about how your words might affect others
  • The fact that triggers are very subjective. You may tweet something about how you are angry with your mother, not thinking this is a triggering tweet, but someone else who is going through something with their Mom may find it very triggering.

    It's just impossible to be aware of and sensitive to every possible trigger that any person may be vulnerable to at a given moment in time, nor should you be burdened with that responsibility or have your freedom of expression squandered due to this. What we can do is come up with and agree on certain topics that should always be treated with caution and be preceded with a TW. Here are my suggestions:
    • Tweets or posts about:
      • suicide
      • self harm
      • specifics about abuse (mental, physical, sexual, etc.)
      • glorification or support for eating disorder (ed) behaviors
What to do if you consistently see posts/tweets without TW that trigger you:

Many people on Twitter and Facebook, like us,  have mental illness and go through periods of suffering. They may sometimes post things on the above list without a TW. If it becomes too much for me, I unfollow them (usually not permanently -- I just take a break. I've recently been particularly sensitive and vulnerable due to strong PTSD symptoms).

I also let the person know why I've unfollowed. It's a matter of self-care. It's nothing personal or done to hurt or upset anyone else.  Sometimes I just step away from social media for a while to soothe and then return later. 

It's up to you how you handle these situations. We can't control anyone else's behavior. I tend to be a Mother Hen, and with the best of intentions try to nudge people into considering using TW, but this is not always well received. I have to accept that.  Nothing anyone does is about us. It is about them, and each person as at their own point on their particular journey.  We can't force people to understand or compromise. It's up to them to decide how they will behave in a community setting.


Your Thoughts?

What are your thoughts? Do you agree with my list of suggested TW topics? What would you add or take way from the list, and why? What do you do when you come across a triggering tweet or post? What do you do to warn others when your content may be triggering?


Thank you for reading.
More Soon.

8 comments:

  1. I am totally with you on the Trigger Warning, however I don't understand why to unfollow or block people straight away just because of this. To me, new in the twitter community this is really frightning and I wonder if people unfollow or block me, if I forget about it or didn't see a post as triggering. I am up for explaining people to use the TW, maybe per DM, but why unfollow/block and cause such a discussion as a couple of days ago? Seeing this was worse than the specific post that was the cause for all this :(

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    1. Hi Toivoton -- thank you for reading and for sharing your opinion in this comment. The choice to block or unfollow is a personal one. It really depends on your need for safety and what feels safe enough for you. I hear that it can be hurtful to be blocked or unfollowed. We've all experienced it. But, please keep in mind that if someone blocks or unfollows for this reason, it is their way of exercising some control over a distressing situation. I almost always go back and re-follow unless it seems that the tweeter continues to tweet things that I find make me feel too emotionally vulnerable. Thank you again for sharing your perspective. It is important, appreciated, and respected here.

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    2. It is good to read, that you consider re-following people. I was just wondering, if that radical decision to unfollow is not also a kind of b/w thinking, would you have done so with anyone, even ones you are quite close to? I know we need to take care of ourselves, just fail to understand how that helps (unless really all posts are triggering). As I said to me the discussion and passive-agressiveness following the situation was worse for me, probably triggering and I just left (as you also suggested in your post).

      However, as you said, it is a personal decision on how to handle, I was just shocked in that moment.

      To me honestly, TW is a "nice to have" and I find it very polite if people do it and also try to do so myself, still I wouldn't bother too hard if others don't do it, especially on twitter, where you sometimes tend to just vent. I see it as a guideline, which may not be followed by everyone, and that I am aware of. I may make a sour face and do my thing, without bringing it up unless I find someone does it on purpose to hurt people or make fun of them or whatever, which I didn't see so far.
      Also in the outside world, even in group therapy session, I never experienced that someone shouts Trigger Warning before saying something.

      Don't get me wrong, I am pro Trigger Warning, may it be Twitter or even personal blogs, however I feel making it a strict rule could be offending , especially if pushed too hard (and somehow right now, it seems like establishing a rule instead of a guideline).

      Also perhaps seeing a Mother Hen is not in everyone's favour and perhaps also not wanted. Personally, I don't like to have rules made for me in an open community (would be different like in a forum that you own and you establish rules + consequences, but Twitter is a "public" place.)

      I like that you care, it shows how important all this is to you. Also having it open for discussion is appreciated. It is just that all this discussion seems to stir things up more than necessary, in my opinion.

      Twitter is no "safe" environment and everybody should be aware of this when participating. Of course, that also means that I might be unfollowed/blocked. (which still is scary to me :| especially when I didn't INTEND to harm, but eventually I would deal with that, too)

      Alright did that make any sense at all?

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    3. It made total sense, and I really appreciate your willingness to share in this way and offer some different perspective. Thank you again for taking the time and for sharing here.

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  2. I used to use TW for a short while but have decided to no longer use it unless perhaps (extremely rarely), a tweet contains details of urges to sh/sui. I find the recent use of TW excessive and overbearing. I've seen some truly unique and quite frankly bizarre TW tweets where it simply isn't necessary. This is because everyone has different triggers and whereas some are obvious, we will never know them all and using TW so frequently and lightly undermines the strength of it.

    In addition, Twitter/FB for many people (including myself) is an extremely diverse community, involving current events, personal interests and areas relevant to careers as well as fun. It isn't solely a bpd/mh community and people should remember this. This over policing is rather like wrapping people up in cotton wool in an inappropriate environment - we can't do that in the real world, so why here?

    I take exception to the use of TW being described as a 'courtesy'. The obvious insinuation here is that people who do not use it (for whatever reason) are being discourteous. I am not discourteous, I merely have a differing view on this point and it is unfair to link courtesy to such a subjective topic.

    Finally, if you find a person repeatedly posting something you find triggering, you can unfollow/block and I have done this.

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    1. Thanks so much for your comment, insights, and perspective. You are right that the Twitterverse is much larger than a mental health community. I personally use it just for this purpose and connect with many others who primarily discuss their mental illness, treatment, struggles, and triumphs. I also connect with mental health advocates and professionals, and then a few others who are outside of these categories.

      For me, personally, the Twitter connections I engage in are primarily are mental health, as are the tweets I see quite often, and I consider it a courtesy to use TW within the mental health community on Twitter, specifically on the list of items I mentioned as potentially universally triggering. It's an issue of boundaries for me, and I get that it may not be perceived that way by others.

      I appreciate your honest, open expression and your view point. I do feel that it is discourteous to not warn others when one publicly announces something within those universal twitters, but I get that this doesn't mean that the other person is deliberately trying to be discourteous and that they may not agree with my view points on the matter.

      Thank you for your intelligent comment.

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  3. Even as a therapist when I tweet or blog I use forget "TW" and have received DM's to add it. Part of it is because I do not get triggered easy so for me something isn't triggering and I forget how it can be for other people. I too like failtorecover have seen it over used at times, one post along the lines of "TW Just ate salad," for me seemed over the top, but I can see how to someone with ED issues that can be a trigger. I wish instead of un-following someone would send a DM stating to add the TW.

    I personally have un-followed or chosen not to follow all pro-ED twitter accounts as for me as a therapist my initial reaction is to send a message and try to help, sometimes to the detriment of my own mental health. There was one occasion when I couldn't sleep after someone I was following on Twitter was (TW) detailing some plans she had and I wanted to get on a plane that very moment and stop her.

    For me TW is a personal boundary for others stating "I need/want to share X but I care about hurting other people." Not doing so is interfering with someone else's personal boundary "I want/need to share X and am not concerned with the consequences to others."

    Alas, it all boils down to boundaries (for me.)

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    1. Alicia, thank you very much for participating in the comments here. Your perspective is very valuable as a therapist and as someone who regularly engages in Twitter conversations of mostly a mental health nature.

      I agree with you that it really is an issue of boundaries, and your breakdown of "I want to share X, but..." is a great way to illustrate what my intention was behind describing TW is a courtesy.

      Thank you for taking the time to comment.

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