Psychometric Trigger Locks

As Colleen Hoover writes trigger warnings can be a complex topic. How does one balance protecting people from traumatic reminders without spoiling books for others? Perhaps the answer, and other similar advantages, lie in expanding existing book-site technology.

Having known more than one person who’s suffered from a species of traumatic stress or phobia, I understand why people who are triggered want an option to avoid it; and reject utterly the idea that all of them should “stop whining and just suck it up”. So, trigger warnings are a reasonable thing.

However, as a reader of thrillers and crime novels, I like unravelling secrets and discovering whether my theories are correct, so I dislike blurbs that give away too much. Thus, I would prefer a description free from “WARNING: contains X”. A way of having the information there if I cared, but not if I didn’t.

Then I realised I experience two-tier book descriptions on an almost daily basis:

  • When I upload one of my own books to a retailer, I can set keywords that aren’t visible to the customer but do assist searches.

  • When I add a book on a book site (for example, GoodReads) I can assign it to shelves based on anything I feel like.

  • When I discuss books on a forum, there is usually a [spoiler] tag I can use to hide sections of a post by default.

Expanding these ideas, what if a book site/retailer had a series of hidden “trigger” flags? Each user could set their triggers and the site would filter out (or put a warning) on books that contained those triggers; users who didn’t have the trigger would see the book as usual, meaning they knew only that the book didn’t contain any triggers they’d set.

Of course, the real issue (beyond the extra load on the database) would be how to source the data. A single person’s opinion (whether author or defined expert) might not capture sufficient variations on a trigger; without a report vetting process, crowdsourcing is open to someone abusing the trigger system to hide a book they don’t like; and so forth. And it loses much of its usefulness if a person doesn’t have a smart phone or other convenient internet link while shopping/borrowing.

However, the problems are no worse than those that arise from readers needing to rely on user-submitted reviews for this information.

Do you have another way to maintain the triggers/surprises balance? Disagree with my idea? Or want to build it?

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