Thursday, February 28, 2019

A New Trauma Population for the Social Media Age

Even if you aren't a Facebook use, you're probably aware that there are rules about what you can and cannot post. Images or videos that depict violence or illegal behavior would of course be taken down. But who decides that? You as a user can always report an image or video (or person or group) if you think it violates community standards. But obviously, Facebook doesn't want to traumatize its users if it can be avoided.

That's where the employees of companies like Cognizant come in. It's their job to watch some of the most disturbing content on the internet - and it's even worse than it sounds. In this fascinating article for The Verge, Casey Newton describes just how traumatic doing such a job can be. (Content warning - this post has lots of references to violence, suicide, and mental illness.)

The problem with the way these companies do business is that, not only do employees see violent and disturbing content; they also don't have the opportunity to talk about what they see with their support networks:
Over the past three months, I interviewed a dozen current and former employees of Cognizant in Phoenix. All had signed non-disclosure agreements with Cognizant in which they pledged not to discuss their work for Facebook — or even acknowledge that Facebook is Cognizant’s client. The shroud of secrecy is meant to protect employees from users who may be angry about a content moderation decision and seek to resolve it with a known Facebook contractor. The NDAs are also meant to prevent contractors from sharing Facebook users’ personal information with the outside world, at a time of intense scrutiny over data privacy issues.

But the secrecy also insulates Cognizant and Facebook from criticism about their working conditions, moderators told me. They are pressured not to discuss the emotional toll that their job takes on them, even with loved ones, leading to increased feelings of isolation and anxiety.

The moderators told me it’s a place where the conspiracy videos and memes that they see each day gradually lead them to embrace fringe views. One auditor walks the floor promoting the idea that the Earth is flat. A former employee told me he has begun to question certain aspects of the Holocaust. Another former employee, who told me he has mapped every escape route out of his house and sleeps with a gun at his side, said: “I no longer believe 9/11 was a terrorist attack.”
It's a fascinating read on an industry I really wasn't aware existed, and a population that could be diagnosed with PTSD and other responses to trauma.

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