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When trigger warnings are not enough, nor are they a valid reason to potentially traumatise an audience

When trigger warnings are not enough, nor are they a valid reason to potentially traumatise an audience

Gaming is inherently and mostly safe, as is the world we live in.

Our nervous system responses have and are increasingly tapped into by the skewed narrative that is available through social media and new media outlets. Research from leading academics/scientists and researchers such as Steven Pinker has highlighted that as a society we have become less violent as a species and that the rates of homicide have decreased. However, this doesn’t sell news stories, ​does it? This narrative doesn’t keep your nervous system in high-stress​ response state, commonly known as fight/flight. It’s unlikely that you will believe in trust and safety if your newsfeed tells you otherwise. Gaming and the ‘negative issues’ that exist are often collected within this narrative. I write about these and know they do exist, however they exist in a small minority of cases and some of them are myths, ​not facts. Current myths that are being argued by academics relating to gaming are focused on the hyperbolic claims that you will or have likely read online or in a newspaper. These are gaming does not (mostly) create addiction or disorders. violent video games do not produce violent gamers in the real world. The benefits of gaming outweigh the very few negative issues that we researchers are interested in and exploring to date. I have a number of podcasts on this subject matter so please go there to learn more.

You see I am a trauma specialist and I work with children, adolescents and adults. I work in a practice whereby I know the impact of being a witness to another person’s trauma through and through and its why I teach on the subject of vicarious (cyber)trauma and self-care in the profession of being with and around trauma. Traumatic means many different things and what is traumatic to one person is not always traumatic to another; You can’t or don’t get to decide that for another person, even if you are a professional. You are not the receiver of the image, video or text. Writing trigger warning actually creates a propensity for some to press play and watch or read/view. If there’s a slim chance that you will traumatise someone why do it? (see my previous blog on Cybertrauma by professionals for the why people actually do this). Educating on the dangers to look out for online know we need to educate parents, professionals and other adults on the dangers we need to look out for in terms of young people and their online activities and perhaps we can also educate young people on these issues.

However, we must remember that even if your chronological age is 20, 30, 70 or 15 you may not emotionally be capable of processing images, videos and sound without having a traumatic response to that media. You may also have a background in which you have your own trauma and viewing material that is uncomfortable or traumatic may jiggle, unsettle or trigger your own nervous system stress response in a traumatic way. You can be traumatised by hearing about a traumatic event. If this can happen to an adult with a fully formed and mature brain imagine the impact on a developing brain of an adolescent.

Today a video went live that contains many Cybertrauma issues. Whilst it comes from a place of best intent by the producers of the video it contains victim-blaming language (such as the phrase “if only he had believed us” this is a trauma trigger for victims), it contains images of a grieving parent (mirror neuron responses, empathy and trauma triggers and is meant to create sadness and outrage in you- it’s a manipulation of your nervous system) and it contains a very scary message aimed at children and young people, yet the film has a suggested viewing rating of 15. This message, which is about trusting online friends, suggests that YOU (the child) are responsible for knowing who your online friends really are and every aspect about them and their abilities and patterns of potential grooming behaviours. Yet this grooming set of behaviours is not explained in the video, which leaves a deficit of knowledge about what to look out for, yet insinuates that you need to know this. How confusing for adolescents! Do you really know, or should that be could you ever really know who everyone is you talk to online Do you really know, or should that be could you ever really know who everyone is you talk to online​ when this number could be into the thousands or millions as the number of online gamers is actually huge… The concept of online friends is still in the infancy of research questions about this phenomenon and one that adults quite often believe means the same thing as it did before the internet existed. How does a young person know what to ‘lookout for’ when this is omitted from the educative video? How can they be responsible for something that isn’t within their control? Hence the word victim, which means something happened to you, that was out of your control. This video WILL be and HAS been shown to young people and no doubt will hit the million mark on views on YouTube very quickly. This of course will increase traffic to the makers of the film, who have previously created a number of films like this with all of the above issues. This will potentially win awards, be talked about as a great resource for education and yet the issues above miss the very important message as it is disguised as one that young people will be ‘fed’ as their responsibility.

Hyper-Rational Thinking Patterns

As young people think differently and have hyper-rational thinking patterns this message will be lost to normative maturational processes. To use a phrase you may have heard before: ‘it is likely to go in one ear and out the other’, but the trauma, oh that will be processed and may create further issues. I can tell you from the adolescents in my practice that this occurs and we as the adults show them it in the name of…scaring them into responsibility? How odd.

Sharing the trend adds to the algorithm

When you share that image/video of the trend, you add to the existing algorithm of the ‘trend’ and if it is an intention of perpetrators of a crime to advertise their product, i.e. to entice children to find out about their videos or games then the best people to do this for them already exist in a fear-driven world and they are the adults. Children do not have this advertising power, you do and so do schools, child-related clubs, professionals who support children and other fear-driven​ parents. You literally advertise for them for free. Each and every time.

I wonder how many under 15’s will see this as it’s​ on YouTube? How many shares will take place over social media platforms in the very same fear-driven​ act that made ‘Momo’ so famous? I wonder how many children (adults and people with anxiety) will have nightmares​ become afraid of everyone they now speak to online? (what about the real world, where grooming exists too?). I wonder if this really was the best way to communicate this message?

Perhaps we need a rethink… actually,​ I’m suggesting that this is actually what needs to happen, pronto.

Shock/Horror, Shame, Fear and Victim-blaming are not the way to educate. We can do better.

The ‘Human algorithm’ that schools and parents feed through fear concerning social media ‘trends’

The ‘Human algorithm’ that schools and parents feed through fear concerning social media ‘trends’

The ‘Human algorithm’ that schools and parents feed through fear concerning social media ‘trends’ How perpetrators of crime are relying on you to advertise their products for free; and you do. How you may be adding to the online harm issues for children and young people without being Free advertising used to be a dream for large companies who wanted to sell their products to as many people as possible in the shortest timeframe possible. Finding a slot between popular TV programs would mean that you got the biggest bang for your buck. If the advert was good people would talk about it to their family and friends. Now all you need is a video or image and some people with internet access and hey presto the digital highway of cyberspace/internet can send this to more people than you could count. Unlike a TV ad, this image or video can repeat many times on many platforms in cyberspace and so the exponential impact becomes a very cheap option. But what if you wanted to recruit children to buy your product? Surely you would need something that could be accessed by children, talked about by children and also would become a hot topic for adults to talk about, therefore keeping the fire burning in the engine of mass impact. Forget children’s TV, the area that would get you the most traction is likely to utilise somewhere children

I suspect the two most ‘popular’ areas that children currently frequent are schools and the internet, namely apps that are deemed suitable for children such as YouTube kids? Whilst this is slightly tongue in cheek as these are very likely the two most popular areas aside from Family homes there is a significant factor here; If a child has YouTube kids app then there is an adult in the house who owns that device and is likely to use social media.

Creating a moral panic of fear driven posts

Here is the formula for a perpetrator of the crime to use this ‘algorithm’ (not the computer type but one of human behaviour), to create a pandemic of fear and curiosity in children and is resulting in a moral panic of fear-driven posts that advertise a perpetrators ‘idea’ or ‘product’ for absolutely nothing!

The latest ‘challenge’, ‘game’ or ‘threat’ on social media

Recently I have been inundated with a plethora of messages from family, friends and social media contacts regarding a ‘challenge’ or ‘scary video’ or ‘suicide threat’ dependent upon which social media platform you read the story on. This ‘game’ (which I’m not naming on purpose because I’m not adding to the internet algorithm where possible), it has an image of a face that reminds me of the wife in Beetlejuice, has enlarged eyes and an elongated face. I’m not here to discuss the validity of this new ‘game’ as I don’t entirely trust any of the reports I have read anywhere and I saw this shared in Australia a few months ago, with the same impact. It’s now here in the UK and will no doubt be replaced by another soon enough. Nor am I discussing within this blog the issue of children who have been privy to seeing this image/game whilst unsupervised as I think parents get a bad enough rap as it is regarding their digital parenting skills. To be fair this is likely to be so few actual instances of children engaging in this behaviour in comparison to the postings currently on social media.

The human nature algorithm

Here’s where the human nature algorithm adds to this issue and why I’m writing this blog;

When you share the images/videos of the games/pranks/dares/challenges you may create a level of vicarious trauma where images are seen by people who may not have been prepared to see this in their social media feeds. You are responsible for what you share, and I am aware this is often done without considering the impact if you are sharing for a reason that you think is important. When you take a moment to stop and think about what this share may result in then this is called ‘mentalising’, or ‘theory of mind’ or ‘empathy’ (it’s a factor of Emotional Intelligence). It takes time to stop, reflect and consider what you are doing and why and when you are in an emotional place this skill is lessened. Panic and fear are powerful emotions for disrupting empathy.

Children are curious

The images or video stills tend to be quite large and have a well-designed novelty factor (as intended by the designer of the product) and these can be seen by children looking over your shoulder, on a device belonging to someone else, their social media feed and on occasions on newsletters from schools. Children are curious to know what you are talking about or looking at (Think of when you try to have a conversation with a friend in the playground or kitchen?). Children are curious and where they feel they may not get a satisfactory answer from you or another adult they will ask another child or in today’s world, they may well google it. If your children, ask being transparent and age-appropriate in your responses helps alleviate this. You do not have to scare your children with the full article details (which may not be true anyway), however, to help them develop their critical thinking skills about the validity of the post and to discuss how they would let you know about issues like this, you need to be in communication with them from the outset.

Sharing the trend adds to the algorithm

When you share that image/video of the trend, you add to the existing algorithm of the ‘trend’ and if it is an intention of perpetrators of a crime to advertise their product, i.e. to entice children to find out about their videos or games then the best people to do this for them already exist in a fear-driven world and they are the adults. Children do not have this advertising power, you do and so do schools,child-related​d clubs, professionals who support children and other fear-driven​ parents. You literally advertise for them for free. Each and every time.

So what can or ought we do?

I’m not saying don’t share this information to raise awareness. I’m saying check facts, check the leading internet organisations websites and check reputable sources that discuss e-safety/online safety issues… with actual facts.

Why children look at scary things on the internet; Why vicarious Cybertrauma/trauma is a thing!

I have a previous blog that covers why children look at scary things on the internet, why vicarious Cybertrauma/trauma is a thing and I podcast about issues like this and covered similar topics in 2017 and 2018 with Alan Mackenzie who is a fabulous internet safety adviser, where we looked at young people trends and YouTube.  This really isn’t a new thing, however, the way the recent issue has been shared has left me silently in awe of the ‘maker’ of this trend as it went viral in the UK within a few days and still continues to be shared, without them lifting a finger to a keyboard or paying an advertiser. Each time the story gets added to and increases in platforms used/shared and a narrative that drives fear.

A new phenomenon of “pass on” whispers..

Our fear feeds the monster and I am already hearing about it in therapy from children who heard adults talking about it in the playground and I have seen so many hyperbolic additions to this new Chinese whisper phenomenon. (Some from companies who claim to inform parents about e-safety issues).

Fear is the greatest driver for human algorithmic behaviour

Become aware of it and you can work out a way to inform rather than scare. Shock tactics do not work, nor have they ever been a great way to educate. They come from a deep-rooted place of fear and feelings of incompetency. So like crossing the road, STOP, LOOK carefully and LISTEN for your own fear monster. Fact check and consider how you can share this information to educate not scare. If you find you’re thinking this way. Stop again and breathe and check-in with yourself what your fear is, because like the challenges the bogey man just got under your skin. You probably know why and I’m not here to shame anyone.

Relevant links:


CyberSynapse Podcast / Vlog –
Influential behaviour on primary school children – ‘Challenges/Dares or Peer pressure?’ – 16th December 2018 – 17th December 2017

DITTO Article September 2017 – Fear from the media and critical thinking.

This article has appeared in the quarterly DITTO e-safety magazine which you can access through Alan Mackenzie’s page via my links page or by going to

My last article talked about fake news, scare stories and critical thinking. This one is not so far from that in terms of the topic, however, I wanted to write something that feels more hopeful for you as teachers and parents.I took a number of small social media sabbaticals this year for a number of reasons. The main reason being for self-care. You see when you submerge yourself in something, such as a bath you expect to get wet. Well, so the same goes for social media and the incessant negative stories and topics that I research, means that I can become both overwhelmed or begin to view the world in a skewed manner if I don’t practice what I preach in terms of looking after myself. As a professional working with peoples stories of their traumas, negative life experiences and worries for much of my day, this can happen to me as a therapist in the real world, and so in turn researching, cybertrauma can also have this impact. I keep a very close eye on myself in this respect and know when to take some time out and regularly discuss this in supervision to makes sure I am not becoming vicariously traumatised. This is a (helpful) suggestion for you too.As I took these mini sabbaticals during late spring and summertime there were some awful tragedies occurring throughout the world and being shared on social media (no more so than at any other time I might add), however, I made a conscious decision to refrain from social media to see what happened for me as usual, this is one of the points when I research much more closely, it is after all my chosen topic of interest.In short, I found that I both managed the breaks and they were delightful. I am aware that this may cause some people to break into a cold sweat when thinking about taking time out from social media and this is not an article about the benefits of social media sabbaticals. What I did find out, what has interested me and is the remit of this article is that social media exacerbates the fear factor and this was apparent with my clients who brought their social media stories and scares into the therapy room for the entire time I was on my sabbaticals.So what I wanted to communicate is more about the psychology of fear, violence, crime and terrorism and how this is not actually as prominent as social media makes out (this is not rocket science here by the way and you should not be surprised by this statement). Firstly let me introduce two excellent researchers and academics who have studied humans and violence. Stephen Pinker and Gavin de Becker are world-renowned in their studies of human behaviour and violence and show that the incidences of violence are less in terms of prevalence and degrees of actual bodily harm since we began as a species to harm each other (Seriously good reads by both of these authors and I recommend them both).So what does this mean in terms of this article? Well as the new term begins, new pupils, new topics of ‘social media’ issues, well you may find your pupils talk about terror, fear, violence, graphic issues and terrorism much more. This is because Manchester, Grenfell, Barcelona and Finland, North Korea etc have been given much more ‘airtime’ through social media. The increase of this airtime is likely to increase the awareness of this topic into younger peoples lives (year 7-11) and their understanding of this topic is likely to be limited in terms of cognitive skills (reasoning, critical thinking and executive functions- see Pinker’s work). In turn, this may mean they can become fearful of a topic due to limited understanding and ‘gossip’ from their peers who are also in the same frame of reference. I’m sure you all have an understanding of this with the ‘ghost/zombie’ stories we all heard and participated in during adolescence; fear breeds fear.If this is applied to a social media frame then you should be able to see how the miscommunication of fear-based stories of violence create an anxiety in young people that is then further communicated in the hope of understanding it. As teachers I feel you can help your pupils learn to think critically and by challenging the facts around the news stories yourself and with your pupils. You may be able to appease the fear and anxiety somewhat by having these discussions rather than avoiding them. The hopeful news is, as a species we are actually less violent now than in the past. Due to the medium of social media, we can now discuss and share incidents much faster and become aware of issues that in the past would have happened, perhaps in another country (without our awareness). We are actually overloaded with this kind of information and this can skew our thinking in a negative way. What are the options? Perhaps this is the kind of educated debate we can have with young people to support critical thinking, challenge the status quo of fear-based news, create a balanced view of events and also provide ourselves with a reassurance that the world is not as violent as we think and that fear should be our intuitive gift, rather than our daily bread & butter served up with lashings of anxiety, worry and speculation. Let’s change the menu.Start writing your post here. You can insert images and videos by clicking on the icons above.

Mind reading and sharing on social media. The potential for misuse.

Once upon a time… When we existed as a simple cavemen/women we had simple brains that perhaps had simple thoughts and consciousness. Language may not have been very complex, so what caveman/woman level of thinking was available is up to your imagination, if I began to discuss this here it would take away from the point I wish to make. Suffice to say we aren’t one hundred per cent sure of this fact.

So, consciousness and thinking, fantasies, desires and our wants were (assumed to be) simple, primitive yet always private or secret. Caveman did not discuss these with other apemen/women for a number of reasons, primarily the lack of langue skills I would guess.

And so the same goes for modern man/woman, what goes on inside our thinking minds is not and cannot be known by another unless we transfer that thought into language or behaviour. For today’s article, I’m not talking about non-verbal intentions where we can tell what another person is likely to do based on what we think they are thinking, for example, a child looking at an apple, whereby we are an assumption they will reach out and grab it. I’m discussing objective and observational explicit things we can ‘see’ or ‘hear’ and this will become apparent soon why I’m aiming toward this form of communication.

Alongside this increasing complexity of language came our personal narratives about families, tribes, expectations about behaviours, likes and dislikes, yet communication was the key to this shared evolution. Internal narratives that may have contained strong opinions, feelings, or lustful rages and desires remained hidden unless shared.

And that’s the centrepiece for this article. Hidden unless shared. So why wouldn’t we share our most primitive drives, fantasies or thoughts? Well that’s up for a lager debate really, however, I’m suggesting as much of the psychological literature does that this is due to shame, fear (of reprise or judgment), lack of language skills, taboo subject matters and shyness to name a few. However, the point behind this is being a human being is complex and there are social norms to what are considered ‘accepted’ disclosures and this pertains to the size of the group, who is in the group and levels of trust within the group. Its how we maintain what Cozolino recently referred to as; Sociostatus*, ie harmony within groups.

(This is a play on words of homeostasis which is how our bodies attempt to remain balanced)

Harmony, Acceptance, Tolerance and balance. The order of harmonious groups, whether that be cells in a body or large numbers of a tribe.

So fast forward to the age of the Internet. The tribe we belong to in terms of possible connections is difficult to ascertain for certain, but let’s stay for the purposes of this article its the number of users of Facebook per month, which is 2 billion or (as other social media apps exist) 50% of the world as they have access to the Internet. That’s 3.5 billion people. Let that sink in a moment.

How or where do we find the sociostasis for this? What’s actually acceptable to disclose in a circle that is this large? What social norms exist? Surely there are many people who are both alike as there are different? Well, what we do know is there is as much variation on the internet as there is in real life, with one difference…….

Your thoughts (desires/opinions/feelings/lusts) once shared on the internet are now explicitly available for others to see, find and share if they so desire. Welcome to social media in one of its many forms. I’m sure from reading my blog you may well know by now that I keep the content real and yet protected somewhat, so following form I will introduce you to why this may be an issue. Many sexual fetishes are misunderstood by the layperson, however, there are some that border criminal intent as well as the bizarre. This may ‘pop up’ on your timeline without warning (sorry for the badly timed pun there). Again much of my research on social media has ‘introduced’ me to things I may never have known about IRL.

Why this is worrying is for these reasons; people have many sexual likes and dislikes, after all, we are all different. Once these are posted, for the prude, naive or uneducated this can create shock and outrage. For those who are more comfortable in their sexual preferences, likes and knowledge these types of post just pass them by, mostly. Discussions and perhaps humour is had and the post becomes a distant memory as the next post on social media displaces it (after all it really wasn’t that important was it?)

I will now briefly discuss some material that may be distressing so please be aware that this may evoke some strong feelings in you. Please take care of yourself.

There comes a cost of some fantasies and fetishes that are at the periphery that are shared on social media and this can cause distress to ‘ordinary folk’. For example, learning that there are men who actively seek out pictures of heavily pregnant women on social media to masturbate to may indeed raise questions about why? (I do not intend to answer this here). Outcries of rage and misunderstanding may even follow this disclosure and I understand that some of you may feel this way. I am not responsible for the content of the internet and this content exists in/on this internet.

Why is this even a cause for concern or worry though? Are you likely to see someone’s sexual preferences or fantasies online? Do you really care about what others like? Did you even need to know? Perhaps not, however, your sharing of your posts (in this instance photos) are in this very same internet. Does It then follow that we should keep all photos private? Perhaps? Does this limit you? Again perhaps? However, I want you to think about the fact that as you wander around public spaces that you’re unlikely to ever know what somebody is thinking or in this case, sexually fantasising about. It has always been this way.

So what is my actual point? In short, this is about being aware of what you share on the internet and how it COULD be used or sought out. Imagine if you were to find your photo on someone else’s site/forum/page and it was being used in a sexual way? For adolescents this may highlight why and where your photos may end up and for the adults reading this, you or photos of your family or children may be used in this way. I’m not saying don’t ever post your pictures up on social media, though I do say for pictures of infants and children that this is definitely my advice. If the pictures are not online how can they be shared?

I am fully aware that some of you may be angry about or with this article and I have encountered a number of parents who have ‘vented’ this on social media, and again I say I’m not responsible for others behaviour, intentions, feelings, lusts or the internet, people have these feelings and you do not know who they are, unless or until they tell you.