We know that child porn and subsequent child abuse are a reality. In order to prevent criminal-minded pedophiles from running child porn services on their websites, social website moderators are required to keep a check. To perform their duties, they need to watch some highly disturbing pictures and videos to determine if the person who posted the image/video has attempted to violate the community standards of the company and the federal law or not. If they find the content offensive the accounts from which the content was posted is deleted and the incident is immediately reported to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.
It is understandable that watching upsetting content involving little children is not a pleasant sight at all and it definitely takes a toll on those who need to watch it on a daily basis. Companies often provide their website moderators proper support in this regard to sustaining their mental health and wellbeing. But, some companies ignore this vital requirement of the human mind and body and thus, find it in hot waters.
One such company is Microsoft, which allegedly did not provide two of its employee’s appropriate support to prevent mental health deterioration and resultantly, the employees developed PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder).
The employees Henry Soto and Greg Blauert have filed a lawsuit against Microsoft in King County, Washington. Both of them claim that they were the members of Online Safety Team of the Windows developer firm. The team was formed in 2007 after the new federal legislation made it compulsory to keep a check on the type of content being shared on social websites and also after complaints were received from customers of Microsoft regarding offensive content being distributed through Microsoft’s products.
According to the two claimants, Microsoft left them with no choice but to join the team and they weren’t fully trained for the job nor had any idea what the team was supposed to do. Then they were introduced to the world of child porn where they had to monitor user accounts and communications as well as watch haunting images where young kids were being abused, sexually exploited and even murdered.
Both the claimants remained in the Online Safety Team for 18 months after which they requested a transfer. But, those 18 months took a grave toll on their mental and physical health as they continually received flashbacks of disturbing content. He started experiencing Auditory Hallucinations after reviewing video of a young girl getting abused and then murdered.
“The content they had to watch included child pornography, bestiality, brutality, murder, sexual assaults, indescribable sexual assaults, videos of humans dying and, in general, videos and photographs designed to entertain the most twisted and sick minded people in the world.”
According to Soto’s attorneys, their client faced “sleep disturbance, nightmares [and] suffered from an internal video screen in his head and could see disturbing images. He suffered from irritability, increased startle, anticipatory anxiety, and was easily distractible.”
They stated that their supervisors did initiate a Wellness Plan under which they were allowed to leave work early if they became “overwhelmed with trauma.” However, later on, whoever left work early was criticized for doing so in their eventual performance review.
Microsoft maintains that its employees aren’t required to view the content for the entire day or to view them at home or on personal devices. Furthermore, the company states that it did provide the Online Safety Team members suffering from Compassion Fatigue with counseling sessions. In these sessions, Blauert used to take quite a few breaks and played video games or went out to smoke or for a walk while the session was underway.
In response to this allegation, Blauert states that the sessions didn’t work for him as he continued to suffer from Physical and Mental breakdown. He started showing symptoms of PTSD including anxiety, insomnia and couldn’t control crying.
The claimants state that their job has severely damaged their personal life especially their relationships with children. They cannot go out in public and not even feel the courage to use the internet anymore. They believe that adequate funding and counseling was provided to another department at Microsoft namely the Digital Crimes Unit while the Online Safety Unit was deprived of it.
Microsoft’s spokesperson stated that none of these claims hold any ground:
“We disagree with the plaintiffs’ claims. Microsoft takes seriously its responsibility to remove and report imagery of child sexual exploitation and abuse being shared on its services, as well as the health and resiliency of the employees who do this important work.”
The claimants seek to get compensation for their medical bills and for developing PTSD. They also want Microsoft to implement policies that would help other employees facing a similar situation.