Share Your Story: The Web, Crisis & Trauma

Back in January, I wrote about personal histories—about the experiences in my past that make me feel vulnerable, that dredge up emotion—and the way those experiences sometimes spill over into tasks and forms online:

Every question carries weight. Every bit we collect is part of a personal history—a story of a life lived. And those lives are always messier than the “frictionless interactive experiences” we—designers, writers, strategists, whathaveyous—intend to create.

Since then, I’ve been talking with Eric Meyer, whose daughter died of cancer last year, about his recent thinking on designing for crisis, as well as his experience with Facebook’s Year in Review:

This inadvertent algorithmic cruelty is the result of code that works in the overwhelming majority of cases, reminding people of the awesomeness of their years, showing them selfies at a party or whale spouts from sailing boats or the marina outside their vacation house.

But for those of us who lived through the death of loved ones, or spent extended time in the hospital, or were hit by divorce or losing a job or any one of a hundred crises, we might not want another look at this past year.

These discussions have us asking a lot of questions:

  • Who else has had a website or app trigger trauma or grief?
  • What kinds of sites have people tried to use when in crisis or distress, and what experiences have they had with them?
  • Are there common questions or messages that trigger emotional responses? What are they? What about the ones that aren’t common? What’s the range of “personal histories” out there that could affect how someone reacts to content online?
  • What kinds of design or content decisions have made others feel excluded or vulnerable?

“I must have reread this page 10 times”

We’ve started asking these questions to the people we know. Here’s just one of the stories we’ve heard so far:

After my sexual assault, when I wasn’t thinking quite right, I was looking at websites to help me understand if I had in fact been sexually assaulted. I came to this site. You get there from a section on the homepage that says, “Was I sexually assaulted?”

The page attempts to describe types of assault, but it’s not comprehensive, and there’s nothing that says, “But hey…maybe what happened to you was a bit different, and don’t worry, you’re not crazy, and here’s someone you can call.” I must have reread this page 10 times. And in that moment, I felt like, well maybe this doesn’t fit…maybe this isn’t really assault and it’s my fault. I know that seems crazy. Looking back, it was VERY clearly assault.

I realize that they say sexual assault comes in different forms, but the way the page is designed, you kind of skim over that, and there’s nothing after the “types” to help people who don’t identify with the listed situations know what to do next.

Help us learn more

We want to hear more stories like this—stories that help us understand what a broader range of people who are facing crisis, distress, grief, trauma, or fear experience online. We’ll use these stories to better frame the problems, so we can develop stronger, more inclusive design and content principles as a result.

Do you have a story to share? We’d love to hear it. Use this Google form to share it with us—anonymously, if you choose.

Thank you.

2 thoughts on “Share Your Story: The Web, Crisis & Trauma

  1. Your “Personal histories” and “The imperfectionist” articles got me hooked up on your blog.. I am always waiting for new articles..
    I love your style

  2. Great post, Sara, this is a very sensitive and much needed observation and goes well beyond the “gender multiple choice” complaint. You do so well by tying this into psychologically relevant triggers of trauma.

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