Peeking At The News Through Content Warnings On Mastodon

My views on content warnings — like those about trigger warnings — have evolved.

Which is a fancy way of saying "I was wrong when I whined about content warnings."

True, it was the before-times, back before COVID revealed exactly how awful a sadly large number of people can be.

Back before I recognized that I had my own trauma triggers, and how much time and energy I spent dealing with them when they went off when I was unprepared.

Before we all spent time in Maslow’s basement, only in time to emerge into a species-wide existential crisis.

Remember those times you got startled or shook by stumbling across some crappy news that just ruined your day? Maybe it doesn’t happen all the time to you — but I bet it has happened.

And for some folks — and perhaps you, in the not-too-distant future — that might be most news stories.

So… yeah. I get it now. I’m sorry.

I now use content warnings pretty extensively when I post, particularly when it’s a semi-automated one. But if you boost someone else’s post, you can’t add a content warning to it without copying it and making it a post of your own.

This becomes particularly problematic with, say, news stories.

So I decided to smack together something to solve the problem.

I adapted a version of my agaetr program to be able to do two things:

  • Take multiple publicly available RSS feeds from news sites and push them to a Mastodon account, with each programatically content-warninged toot having the published date, source, headline, (depending on length) short article summary, and direct link back to the original news website
  • Create a programatically CW’d mirror of an existing Mastodon account with links back to the original toot. There’s a number of informational bot accounts (or semi-bot accounts) that rarely or never use CW’s. Which is fine, but if I want to boost them, I need the CW added. Hence this tool.

I’m fine-tuning the second item’s functionality (and checking with the accounts I’m intending to mirror if they’re cool with it) before I push out the code or point you toward those accounts; that will probably come with an update of agaetr later this month.

However, the first goal — providing a stream of news posts with content warnings that I can merrily boost — seems to be working pretty well. You can see it at or follow the bot at @[email protected] from your own instance.

Every post from that account should at least have a content warning of "news," and when it can pick up a keyword for an additional content warning, it will add that too.

As a side note, it uses url shortening through a self-hosted YOURLs instance, which I solely use simply to have a known length for the links to make the formatting easier.

While it does the content warnings programatically, it’s just simple keyword matching, hence why everything gets the "news" content warning in case it misses something.

And take my advice: if you’re on a social network that allows content warnings and the like, go ahead and use content warnings. Even if there’s not a space for them, make an effort to put it at the top of the post.

Even if you think it’s somewhat of an over-reaction.

Especially if you think they’re an over-reaction.

That way you won’t have to go and publicly admit how wrong you were, like me.

Featured Photo by Ashley Anthony on Unsplash