July 19, 2010

An Incredibly Distressing Story [8:23 am]

Concern for Those Who Screen the Web for Barbarity [pdf]

An Internet content reviewer, Mr. Bess sifts through photographs that people upload to a big social networking site and keeps the illicit material — and there is plenty of it — from being posted. His is an obscure job that is repeated thousands of times over, from office parks in suburban Florida to outsourcing hubs like the Philippines.

With the rise of Web sites built around material submitted by users, screeners have never been in greater demand. Some Internet firms have tried to get by with software that scans photos for, say, a large area of flesh tones, but nothing is a substitute for a discerning human eye.

The surge in Internet screening services has brought a growing awareness that the jobs can have mental health consequences for the reviewers, some of whom are drawn to the low-paying work by the simple prospect of making money while looking at pornography.

“You have 20-year-old kids who get hired to do content review, and who get excited because they think they are going to see adult porn,” said Hemanshu Nigam, the former chief security officer at MySpace. “They have no idea that some of the despicable and illegal images they will see can haunt them for the rest of their lives.”

[...] Workers at Telecommunications On Demand, who make $8 to $12 an hour, view photos that have been stripped of information about the users who posted them. Rapidly cycling through pages of 300 images each, they are asked to flag material that is obviously pornographic or violent, illegal in a certain country or deemed inappropriate by a specific Web site.

Caleris, an outsourcing company based in West Des Moines, Iowa, says it reviews about 4.5 million images a day. Stacey Springer, its vice president for support operations, says the job is not for everybody and that “people find they can do it, but it is usually a lot harder than they thought.” The company offers counseling as part of its standard benefits package for workers.

[...] “The images interfere with their thinking processes. It messes up the way you react to your partner,” Ms. Laperal said. “If you work with garbage, you will get dirty.”

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