I’m at a loss. I often see the use of the word “triggered” on Tumblr and it appears to have a very different context than I am used to. What’s worse, even within the unconventional usage, I get the hint that there may be several different concepts the word is used for here. What do people mean when they use this term?
As is so often the case, the reason there are several different concepts is that people learn terms from usage, and tend not to notice that they are guessing at the meanings. For instance, you might see a sign at a buffet, by some food under heat lamps:
In this case, people who saw scare quotes used to denote ironic usage, but failed to detect the irony, inferred that quotes were used for emphasis, so they use scare quotes for emphasis. Of course, now people see scare quotes used for emphasis, too, leading to us having a single punctuation cue which means two diametrically opposed things.
Much the same thing is happening with “triggered”. The original meaning has to do with people who have disorders wherein certain events can set off, or “trigger”, particularly significant and often catastrophic outcomes. For instance, flashing lights may trigger seizures in some people, or loud noises can trigger PTSD. Now, think back to the scare quotes, and you can see what happens. People see someone refer to something as “triggering”, and other people stop doing that thing, or take steps to make it easy to avoid (say, providing a tag to let people avoid posts containing that thing). So they learn that “triggered by X” means “experiencing a desire not to see X which other people are obliged to accommodate”.
So people who realize that other people are obliged to accommodate their desire not to see a given thing will of course refer to the experience of seeing it as “triggering”, and ask for “trigger warnings”. It would probably be best if everyone simply agreed on this protocol. After all, then instead of having to write angry and threatening letters to a newspaper for covering a wedding, people could have politely asked that reporters tag stuff involving same-sex weddings, explaining that they want a trigger warning. Westboro Baptist Church could use tumblr savior to filter out anything involving gays, and everyone else could filter out “#tw: westboro”.