On the Googlers who are paid to look at the absolute worst things on the internet

Buzzfeed reports that the people Google hires to screen for the worst possible stuff on YouTube (CP, beheadings, and this horrific stuff) suffer mental health risks (well, duh), and that they are unlikely to be hired as full-time employees who would receive health care benefits. That does not seem right. (via Joel Johnson)


  1. There’s an idea that’s been rattling around in neuro-diversity circles, for a while, that some jobs are just done better by people with certain mental conditions, like hiring people with OCD to be inspectors and hiring autistics to write code. This seems to me like one of those jobs; it really ought to be done by chronic depressives, like me. None of this stuff would destroy my faith in mankind, because I don’t have any faith in mankind to destroy; none of this stuff would disillusion me, I don’t have any illusions.

    I had to learn, before I was 20, to stay alive by maintaining my sense of perspective, and that includes understanding this: some people are just like that. Obviously it’s not all of us. Obviously it’s not even most of us, or the world would be one big screaming abattoir. But it is some of us. As I think it was one of Spider Robinson’s characters who said, “It took evolution a hundred million years to make a talking monkey, you expected a civilized one in a couple of thousand?”

    Pay me a reasonable salary and give me management that accepts the fact that I’m mildly autistic and chronically depressed, and I could work the rest of my working life as an Internet janitor without it making me any worse than I am now. Arguably, by being steady employment in a job where I’d be hard to replace, it’d probably improve my life.

    1. You think so? I don’t think the main risks of looking at stuff like this all day are destruction of faith in mankind or disillusionment (not that those won’t also happen), but the normalization of violence and degradation and the dulling of empathy. If you are already a sociopath who is totally unmoved by another person’s suffering, then yes, you may come out of this no worse than you are now — but in that case I don’t want to know you now, and I don’t think that’s what you’re saying anyway. I doubt it’s possible to look at that sort of stuff all the time and maintain one’s empathy without some kind of damage.

      1. Definitely some kind of damage, but I used to be damaged keeping track of hundreds of thousands of files in a huge warehouse. I dreamed of 11 and 9 digit numbers at night and worried about the latest bar code scanning technology and humidity controls, the price of cardboard, fuel and shredding services. That shit was damaging me.

        My best bud years ago was making beaucoup in internet niche porn, keeping costs down he spent time finding and digitizing new material on a constant cycle to keep his subscribers sated. Wasn’t long before watching porn was “like mowing the lawn” to him. And this was niche porn. Fuck that, cept he made good bank.

        I think his point is that there must be in the variance of humanity people who would take the least damage for this work. That’s true I think, but whoever the hell they are they deserve bennies and a living wage for watching millions of cup and girl adaptations

      2. On the contrary. I say this as a chronic depressive, as a news junkie, as someone who’s spent the last couple of years reading about some of the most important (but unpleasant) bits of history like the fall of the Wiemar Republic and the Spanish Civil War:

        My calm, firm conviction that monsters must be removed from society, cured if possible, and warehoused indefinitely or killed otherwise, and my ferocious determination to support, care for, and if possible heal their victims, does not depend on my looking away. Quite the contrary: not looking away firms up my resolve to be a decent person, to insist on justice, and to help the victims of injustice.

        As a chronic depressive, I look at those of you who have to look away, who can’t stand the sight of these things, who fear (apparently quite legitimately?) that you’ll lose your sanity and turn into one of the sick monsters if you don’t look away, and I think that *you’re* the ones with an empathy disorder.

        1. “that you’ll lose your sanity and turn into one of the sick monsters if you don’t look away”.

          I don’t link those two elements : being hurt / become a monster. But just the 1st is bad enough. That’s why I tend to avoid those gross things.

      3. You’re somehow implying that I don’t come across loads of this stuff on some of the places that I surf the net.  I mean I don’t actively seek it out, but if it’s there why not.

        I don’t think I’m the same as Mr. Hicks in regards to how I perceive these types of things.  For me there is a psychological disconnect for a lot of the stuff I see on the internet.  Since it is here, it has already happened, and there really isn’t anything I can do to change that (other than perhaps learn what I can from it).  In reality that doesn’t make what I am seeing any less “wrong”, but at the same time I don’t feel a connection to it.  Depending on the pay I’d be willing to be Google’s human internet filter.

        1. content moderation sometimes crosses over from ‘things that have happened’ into ‘things that are happening right now’. People don’t just post past evidence on the internet, they also post intent.

          I spent more than a few nights at 3am attempting to get through to the right authorities in the right country to stop a crime from happening.

    2. Arguably, by being steady employment in a job where I’d be hard to replace, it’d probably improve my life.

      He couldn’t even get ‘steady employment’, he was a contractor and they announced after 9 months that he wouldn’t be hired as a full-time employee. It doesn’t sound like the company treats contractors as if they’re ‘hard to replace’ since they’ll dump them like used socks before it’s time to offer them real job security and benefits.

      1. Yes, but he didn’t start out insane and wasn’t comfortable with going insane. His bosses did him a favor firing him; odds are he would have lost it before he learned to cope. Whereas we chronic depressives would call 8 hours a day looking at al Qaeda beheading videos and scat porn “Thursday,” go home, and play games online or watch TV or hang out with friends same as we do any other day.

        1. Perhaps but companies aren’t expected to hire people in function of whether they are chronically depressed and feel they have no giddy feelings to lose (not YET anyways).

          We’re looking at how this employee had essentially invested a lot of time, effort and even mental health to do the work assigned to him, yet was denied opportunities and job security without explanation.  The fact that he was not originally ‘depressed’ and reacted like a large number healthy, balanced people would in a similar situation doesn’t make the company’s treatment of him any less cavalier.

      2. He was never a contractor, the only thing that made him a contractor was that he agreed himself to the definition. He had a manager, a workstation and set hours and performance parameters. He brought little beyond a warm body and hope to the position, when the hope was gone they got a new one from the pile.

        Employment classification abuse is everywhere.

        1.  Agreed. I’m so used to ‘contractor’ being a euphemism for ‘temp’ that I figured the article was using the term in that sense.

    3. As a fellow depressive, mildly autistic misanthrope who often thinks he can’t get any lower in his opinion of human behaviour and with a desire for stable, steady work above “achievement”, and currently sitting at a desk all day checking backlinks for an SEO firm, I can tell you that you will definitely sink lower. And that a continual exposure to violence and depradation (in my case in the country I used to live in) left me with a mild case of PTSD that I am still learning to deconstruct. You think you’re above something until it’s all you do, and then you drown.

  2. “Hey, Bill, do you have your time sheet filled out for yesterday?”

    “I’ve seen things, Norm.  Things you couldn’t possibly imagine.  I’ve been introduced to what the capacity for human evil truly is, Norm.”

    “Uh … well, I guess that’s a ‘no’, but take your time, then.”

    “I looked at the definition of ‘horror’ in the dictionary today, Norm.  And I laughed at how inadequate it was.  Then I cried.  Then I got angry…”

      1. Knowing what exists and being comfortable with the details of it are very different. There are lots of benefits to having a visceral opposition to certain things.

          1. The main one is that it limits what we can tolerate. This is different from what we simply oppose, which is influenced by expedience.

            Compare (triggers!): how people react to someone beating an old woman to take her purse vs. burning kittens with a cigar; forcing a drugged woman to have sex vs. a child. Good people will oppose all of them, but very often will overlook or rationalize away the ones they are used to.

            Something being sickening, though, stops them from doing that. And yes, that can be very valuable. Why do you think humans developed that kind of reaction in the first place?

  3. Not to clog up the comment thread, but I had a separate thought. H.P. Lovecraft’s birthday was just the other day, and several forums I read had lengthy threads about his work, his beliefs, and his legacy. Lovecraft’s best literary trick was writing stories where the viewpoint character starts out sane, cheerful, and convinced that he lives in a rational, scientific world, then has all of the props kicked out from under him, and then Lovecraft shows us, from the inside, what he thinks it must be like to slowly go mad: think of it as “Flowers for Algernon” for sanity instead of intelligence.

    If a neuro-typical of average resilience depends, for their sanity, on not being exposed to certain stimuli, to certain truths about the world they live in? If their sanity depends on thinking that everybody around them is decent and kind? If their ability to cheerfully get through their daily routine depends on not knowing that some of the more perverse fetishes even exist? If it depends on thinking that both cruel people and the truly perverted are so rare that they’re once-in-a-lifetime things that are so rare and so far, far from them (and their community, let alone their family) that they’ll never have to deal with personally? Then giving someone like that this job has to be an absolutely Lovecraftian thing to do to them.

    1. I wasn’t thinking of Lovecraft, but Thomas Ligotti. I can imagine Google outsourcing this to people who never leave their cubicles at the Quine Organization. But Ligotti has been described as an inheritor of Lovecraft.

  4. I could look at the worst of the worst all day. It isnt going to change how i think of humanity at all. Humanity is a mixed bag; and what I see or experience is not the sum of all things. I’ve watched all the faces of death, traces of death, i’ve have seen and smelled a huge pool of human blood, there really just isnt anything to offer me that will shatter my world or emotional state. I’m very grounded that way. It’s not that I am apathetic either.

    1. Not apathetic, no. You seem to be seeking this stuff out. Some clear vanity being displayed about the pool of blood. My armchair diagnosis would narcissism, perhaps a soupcon of sociopathy.

      1. Err, perhaps he has seen an actual pool of blood? 

        People are different.  There are those in the rescue services who need psychologic help and (from what I gather a small subset) some just shrug it off w/out being sociopaths.

        1. Yeah, I’ve seen so much blood that the room had to be repainted and the ceiling tiles changed out.  There’s a whole class of people who see atrocities all the time; they’re called hospital workers.

      2. I do seek out disturbing material, but sociopaths tend to not only not care about others but actively seek their undoing. I am pretty guilt ridden about having while others do not, and while I am charitable I never feel its enough. I’ve put myself in harms way to protect strangers; and I’ve made these decisions in the span of 2-3 breaths. Vain? A little, but I also realize that ‘what i know is nothing, and what i need to learn immense’. I’m not the center of the universe and inconsequential. (this does not help in guilt resolution) I am PROUD of my humility.

        i mention the blood because its pretty damn extreme. I cannot watch a horror movie without calling bullshit when someone stumbles upon blood. The scent of quantities of blood isnt something one doesnt pick up.

        I consider myself an aspiring toaist, a socialist, and one who is concerned with the health and happiness of the collective. your rights end where another’s beings and all, and all that. I was programmed by star trek, ultima 4, starblazers, the book of five rings, and a culture of “It’s WE the people.”

        You might want to put your football down if you judged me as a sociopath. I have a variety of neurosis and quirks to be sure, but I’m far far from a sociopath.

    2.  I did content moderation as a job for over three years (mostly just images and text though). It doesn’t change your opinion of humanity, but it does change how you look at people around you. Your job is to see the worst possible situation in a given message or picture, and you can’t just turn that off.

      What google should have done is have multiple people doing it in the same office. You can ask about edge cases, you can joke about what you’re seeing, and the normal interaction helps you distance yourself from it.

      Long term, the job left me with some difficulty single-tasking and a huge knowledge of sexual kinks around the world.

    1. Cheese pizza. It’s horrible, horrible stuff, but so many people just have an insatiable appetite for it.

    1. My first thought was of /b/. In 4chan’s defense, it’s just /b/. There are some lovely corners of 4chan were people actually just post on-topic images.

    2. Seriously. Someone at the Goog just isn’t screening for the right people.
      Archives of alt.tasteless and /b/ should be prerequisites.

  5. Sounds like the type of job I did until recently – but it didn’t really occur to me that I might be risking my sanity (which doesn’t mean that I didn’t).
    Sadly, I don’t think I can offer any detailed information, not knowing what would fall under the NDA.

  6. Jeez, when I worked in the hospital, I had to go through the polaroids of fetuses that had been aborted for gross anomalies. 

    Two Heads?  No heads?  Multiple, long, spidery limbs?   No problem.

    1. Maybe it’s one of those tall rumors, but the story was of a hospital morgue director in Guadalajara who, usually pressed for time, sometimes superficially inspected “fresh” cadavers with one gloved hand, while holding his torta lunch with the other.

      This one I know for a fact, when medical students dissect corpses, to lighten up the mood, they make wagers whether the person drank or not, before cutting open and inspecting the liver.

  7. “Battle not with monsters, lest ye become a monster, and if you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.”
    -Friedrich Neitzsche

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