The Curious Case of Trigger Warnings v. Authorial Rights 

[Begin court record]

Oyez, oyez, this internet court is now in session.

Since the parties in question are all writers and therefore dead broke, both sides will be representing themselves. The web is either too civilized or not civilized enough for attorneys, anyway. Let’s review the facts.

I see here that in November of 2016 the defendant submitted a piece of derivative fiction to an online archive. A few acquaintances of the author read the work and enjoyed it, leaving comments to the effect that the story was succinct, well-written, and generally moving.

Upon learning of the existence of the story and its contents, the plaintiff subsequently proclaimed that there was untagged child pornography / child sexual abuse on the internet. As those assembled in this courtroom here today can well imagine, this caused something of a to-do, both in the comments section of this story, and on the social media site in which many of these authors participate. May I hear the plaintiff’s opening statement?

“Your honor, the defendant, one Diane Kepler, stands accused of creating and disseminating obscene and untagged material. Someone could be triggered by reading this filth.”


“Your honor, the issue that seems central to the plaintiff’s case is that I have committed the internet crime of failure to warn readers of offensive content. However, she has brought false charges. I used three sets of warnings in total. First was the archive’s Author Chose Not To Warn (CNTW) option, then content tags, and finally a note to warn readers that the story might be upsetting.”

“Kepler, you can’t use CNTW for this. You need to use the underage and noncon archive warnings so it doesn’t appear in people’s feeds.”

“Actually, it’s not clear to me that the underage or noncon labels apply. The story is about a younger character who is in a position of authority over an older one. In the end, they work things out. No one is forced.”

“What about the rape?”

“There is an implication that something sexual and/ or violent happens to one of the characters later in the story, but exactly what is never specified.”

“Well then you’d better at least tag implied rape.”

“I don’t think I should need to warn about implied rape when I already used CNTW, “age of consent”, “first times”, “abuse of authority”, and “sexual content”. The implied trauma at the end needs to hit the reader like a punch in the gut. It would deaden the power of the story to have warned about it.”

“It’s irresponsible to try and trick people into reading this.”

“No one was tricked. The point is for readers to see the labels and decide whether the story is suitable for them.”

“You wrote about a grown man fucking a teenager! That wasn’t in the labels and that’s horrible.”

“I wrote about a post-apocalyptic future where a sixteen-year-old soldier and diplomat asks an older friend to do him a favor. That’s fiction. It’s not a call for adults in our day and age to do something criminal and go sleep with a bunch of minors.”

“What if someone felt triggered by reading this garbage?”

“You know, it would be great to find out who decided authors should be held responsible for people’s feelings. I mean, all we can really do is flag possibly offensive material as a courtesy. In the end, there’s no telling what might cause someone to have a flashback or an anxiety attack.”

“You don’t understand the gravity of what you’re dealing with! You sit there in your privileged position, while survivors suffer —”

I was assaulted at age nine! You think I don’t understand that helpless feeling when a stranger’s hands are inside you? When the two male cops who took me away from my mom to get a statement said it was irrelevant that the guy put those same hands around my throat and squeezed until I said I’d be his girlfriend?”

Order. [Gavel banging] Order in the court.

“Sorry, your honor. Look, it’s up to individuals to decide when and where is the right time to deal with trauma. But going through life just hiding from it causes depression and anxiety, plus it reinforces a person’s identity as a victim. The way I started to feel better about what happened to me was first to cooperate with the police until they caught the guy, then journal about it, then to confide in people, and then share it more widely until I didn’t feel awkward about sharing it anymore.

“But you know what?  As a result of the comments on this story, I’ve learned that much of what write and how I go about it is still unconscious. I am still working things out and feedback is helping me learn how I tick.”

“Now you listen, Kepler! You are getting off to writing sick, disgusting things and using -”

[Gavel sounds]. All right I’ve heard enough.

Plaintiff, you have falsely accused an author of creating and underhandedly distributing kiddie porn. You encouraged your followers to block / ostracize / openly harass her as well anyone who commented on the story by using McCarthy-style blacklists and a manufactroversy of such proportions, Big Oil would have been proud. The author flagged her work as sensitive. If you don’t like the manner in which she did it, you can take a flying leap!

The internet is not your safe space, nor do you have the right to police the actions of others in order to try and make it that way. These writers were all getting along before you barged in. Get out of my courtroom, you mudslinging twerp, and if I ever see your face again, no number of anonymous hate messages or sock-puppet accounts will be able to help you.

This court finds for the defendant [Bang]. Keep your head up and keep writing. The people who have chosen to ignore you as a result of this travesty aren’t worth the ones and zeroes in their profiles.

[Court record ends.]

17 responses to “The Curious Case of Trigger Warnings v. Authorial Rights 

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