Content Warnings (CWs) are optional Fediverse features which hide the content of a post behind a warning message. The post can be revealed by clicking on the warning.
Content warnings are for any kind of content where the person reading may not want to read it right that minute, but they may want to read later. It could be something serious like upsetting news, or less serious like film spoilers. There’s also a very strong Fediverse tradition that those who are able to should use CWs when talking about emotive topics such as politics or religion. It is also often used for potentially “not safe for work” content such as gore or nudity.
You can add a content warning while writing a post by clicking on “CW” or “warning” or ⚠️ or other similar icons at the bottom of the editing window. Remember to write a warning that gives people a clear idea of what to expect within the post itself, without them having to actually open it. Try to very briefly say why they might not want to open it right that minute.
What if I want to open lots of CWs at once?
On Mastodon, you can make all the CWs in a thread open or close at once by clicking the eye icon in the top right corner of the thread.
If you don’t want to see any CWs at all, you can make Mastodon open all CW posts by default by going to Preferences > Always expand posts marked with content warnings, tick the box and click Save changes.
Is it compulsory to use CWs?
No one is forced to use CWs, but it is considered polite and considerate to do so. Imagine going into a restaurant and shouting loudly at others about your political opinions, you could do it but others may not appreciate it. In extreme cases you might be asked to leave.
CWs are also an accessibility feature, as they allow people who have traumas triggered by certain topics to read potentially triggering posts when they are mentally prepared to do so. It’s important to emphasise the point that CWs are not about avoiding topics, it’s exactly the opposite: CWs make triggering posts accessible to people who would otherwise have to avoid them, in the same way that text descriptions make images accessible to blind people. They widen your post’s audience.
Having said that, it is a bad idea to call people out for not using CWs! Some people will have legitimate reasons for not using CWs, for example someone who is currently going through a serious personal trauma, or perhaps is being persecuted or under threat of violence. It is not appropriate to demand CWs from someone who is going through something really horrific in their real world life. They may have much bigger things to worry about than social media, and we should help them deal with these bigger things however we can.
Even if someone should be using CWs, having public arguments about rules is not necessarily the best way to get someone to obey them, especially if they’re new to the Fediverse.
If there’s a post you think should be CWed and there’s no obvious reason why it isn’t, check the rules on your server and then ask your server admin for advice on what to do. They set the rules, and they are ultimately the ones that decide what is allowed on there.
In short, CWs are a balancing act, and require a lot of social skill (that’s why this section is so long!). The existence of CWs brings the Fediverse a tiny bit closer to the complexities of everyday life in the real world, where reading the room is essential to getting on with people. No one is going to get this right all the time, but simply being aware of CWs as an option and using them when you feel appropriate and able will make the Fediverse a much more accessible and pleasant place to be.
How do I add a CW to a post I want to share?
You can’t add CWs to someone else’s post. The reason for this is such a feature could be mis-used to quote the post, which is deliberately not available on Mastodon.
A workaround is to do a reply to the post with a CW telling people to read the post above, and then share your reply.