Safety Sync: Feerless

Aug 22nd, 1970

Mar Firke Program Coordinator (Prevention and Education) While increased representation of sexual violence in TV and movie plots has helped to break the silence surrounding these issues, representations of trauma and abuse can also be triggering for survivors. Unexpectedly seeing a graphic depiction of violence, victim blaming by other characters, or plotlines that disproportionately focus on false reports can trigger flashbacks, anxiety, and other trauma responses. This can prevent survivors from being able to participate in critical dialogue about this media. A new crowd-sourced tool could help change this. Feerless is a browser plug-in that provides unobtrusive content warnings for programs on Netflix’s streaming service. Users can select which categories of content warning they would like to see. When a program contains flagged content, a small warning pops up to alert the user 30 seconds before the content in question. The user then can make an informed choice about whether to continue watching or to walk away. Users can also use the plug-in to provide content warnings, helping to improve the service for others by identifying and flagging content that may be triggering to others. Programmer Danielle Leong, herself a survivor of sexual assault, created the service to provide additional support and freedom for fellow survivors coping with PTSD. A demo of Feerless in action can be viewed here. Feerless can help to prevent triggering while allowing survivors to keep up with the same films and TV shows as their peers—a huge asset for youth and college-age survivors, in particular, as they try to stay abreast of the content that others are sharing. Writing for Fusion, Haylin Belay illustrates how Feerless can help empower survivors and increase their ability to engage with popular media.
“For me, attempting to unwind after a long day at work can involve tremendous fear and discomfort. If I want to catch up on what everyone’s talking about—say, an episode of Jessica Jones or How to Get Away with Murder—I have to judge, based on what I know about the show, whether I’m likely to run into upsetting material. I’ll often self-spoil, reading synopses of episodes before I watch so I can be prepared for scenes of violence, abuse, or assault…The process can be so exhausting, it’s often easier to not watch TV at all. I half-jokingly tell… dates that I only watch ‘documentaries and cartoons,’ the least likely genres to send me into spiraling, chest-tightening panic.”

-Haylin Belay, Fusion

Feerless does not prevent survivors from being able to engage with content that may be challenging for them. Instead, it lets them knowingly gain exposure at their own pace and on their own terms. For example, a survivor may read a content warning and choose to pause the movie until a friend is available to watch it with them.  Feerless uses a survivor-centered, trauma-informed approach that empowers viewers to make informed choices. Contrary to some alarmist opinions on the subject, content warnings are not censorship—they simply provide information. Without that information, viewers cannot make informed choices for themselves about what and how they wish to watch, diminishing their agency. Tools like Feerless help to put choices back in the hands of survivors, who deserve to choose for themselves what is appropriate. Leong also emphasized that the plugin is not just for survivors of PTSD—it’s also a way for their friends and allies to support them. In an interview with The Mighty, she said, “‘If you have a loved one with PTSD or if you’ve experienced trauma yourself and ever wondered, ‘What can I do?’ this is a way you can help.’” Since warnings are user-generated, the more supporters download the plugin and contribute warnings to the service, the more effective it will be for those who need it.  For more information, or to download the app, please click here.
This article was originally published in the Spring 2016 Issue of Frontline  

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