Meet the Poor Saps who Filter the Horror Out of the Internet

Illustration for article titled Meet the Poor Saps who Filter the Horror Out of the Internet

How often do you see a truly horrifying image on a mainstream site like Facebook? Almost never, right? Well, that's because some unfortunate individuals look at thousands of images like that per day so you don't have to.

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Yes, there are entire companies dedicated to reviewing content flagged as offensive for various websites that accept user-uploaded media, from Facebook to YouTube. Think child porn, mangled corpses and animal abuse; the worst of the worst. Since an algorithm that seeks out naked people can only go so far, they bring in human beings. And it sounds pretty rough.

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."

Yikes! To be fair, if you take a job just because you think you'll get to look at porn all day, maybe you deserve what you get. But still, these companies find themselves needing to pay for therapy for their workers and dealing with situations like employees throwing up or crying when they see the worst images.

Really, these people should be paid like kings for what they do. Without them, you'd have a much bigger chance of stumbling upon some image that's so upsetting that you can't get it out of your head. They're like sponges that soak up the awfulness so you don't have to. And it sucks that their jobs even need to exist, but anyone who has hung out on the internet for any amount of time knows that they really, really do. Sigh. [NY Times]

DISCUSSION

I saw this article when I was at work, and it got me thinking about the person I am, and about what I've seen on the internet. I could not reply from the office, and I realized why, as I was driving home.

It is because I am ashamed of what I saw and who I became in those instants afterwards, and I will carry that shame for the rest of my life. I am telling just you, Gizmodo, since nobody else is listening. I hope, secretly, that everyone is listening, because I'm not so far away from everyone. I'm a nice guy who likes people, and I lead a nice life that I love to share....

Back in late 2002 to mid-2003, when muslims were beheading Americans every couple weeks, I could not believe that actual human beings would slaughter other human beings like sheep, for any reason. I'd heard about this in the news, but I could not believe it. What reason would lead someone to sever the head of a living person, after all?

Many of my friends told me it was real and not to look, and I brushed them aside. It wasn't about the thrill of seeing snuff films. It was more personal than that, because I am an American, and I could not believe that any human could possibly be so cold as to treat another human as meat just because they were American. I was wrong.

I have some friends in the TV business, and they assured me that the reports were true — actual humans had made Americans like cattle in these films. Like everyone, I had seen footage of people in Iraq roasting Americans over a bridge, like party-pigs at a barbeque, but those dark, armless torso-shapes were simply shapes... familiar in form, but not in color or scale or background or context or being. They were not people. They were not real. CNN had overstepped. Then, one of my friends told me where I could see the unedited. I went there.

One was an unconscious or near-unconscious helicopter engineer in Saudi Arabia who was so doped or dead that his blood flowed into lazy blackness upon a clean mattress, in what looked like a veterinary office. If you hunt, think of how it looks when you dress the head of a dead elk or deer. Check?

One was a reporter in Pakistan who had been captive for weeks, and who kept his eyes solidly transfixed on the camera, whether in meditation or in resolve. He turned his head, in the end, to what looked like a yielding to the blade before he, too, bled into his mattress.

One was a volunteer in Iraq who had been kidnapped, lost in his optimism, and though doped to peak of his skull, he shrieked and bleated like a goat as the dull blade was sawed through his neck, and the splatters spread across the black-hooded men who held him upright and praised the Almighty.

All of these Americans were alive at the start of these films, as Allah was extolled, and his most supreme prophet Mohammed was named his witness and first prophet, and the sentence was pronounced, with exultation for the handful of organizations that made these messages possible. Every month, a new message.

All of these films ended with their heads being removed from their bodies and visibly placed on their backs, as their blood drained — the engineer oozed his unconscious release — the reporter quietly flooded his shirt in an impossibly slow commission to fate — and the volunteer noisily spurted his last all over his "executioner" and accompanying ascetics. There was no editing. Nothing was blurred. Frame-by-frame, there were no gaps. I dabbled in stage make-up in high school, and I could not see any fast-pans or cutaways. I could not see any appliances or tubing or forgiving lighting. I was, and remain, aghast.

I do not truly know if any of these films and images were real. I could not sleep for days afterwards, but I came to a place where I knew that I could never have a muslim in my home, or feed any muslim in my home. That is my shame. I know I may be, now, years later, harboring hate, and I am at peace with it, which may be even more shameful.

Maybe I am a tool of these images, but I shall never feed a muslim in my house, nor shall I ever shelter a muslim under my roof. The rest of the world shall be ours to share. That is my shame, and I have a long way to go before I am absolved of what I have seen.

I can't imagine how black or Native Americans must feel when they look at my cracker-ass. Perhaps it is the same thing, but dulled a bit, or maybe it is un-dulled occasionally, and if sharp, I cannot say that I would blame them for kicking me to the curb, too.