Keep those 2020 social media predictions coming — we’ve gotten lots of good ones so far. Back with a regular edition tomorrow.
Recently I met a former content moderator for Google who developed post-traumatic stress disorder after daily exposure to terrorism and child abuse. Today Daisy Soderberg-Rivkin is going on the record to discuss her experiences.
Unlike the contractors who make up most of Google’s workforce, Daisy was a well paid Google employee who had access to the world’s best benefits and gold-plated health care. But that didn’t stop her from developing severe long-term mental health consequences
A year into the job, Daisy’s then-boyfriend pointed out to her that her personality had begun to change. You’re very jumpy, he said. You talk in your sleep. Sometimes you’re screaming. Her nightmares were getting worse. And she was always, always tired.
A roommate came up behind her once and gently poked her, and she instinctively spun around and hit him. “My reflex was This person is here to hurt me,” she says. “I was just associating everything with things that I had seen.”
One day, Daisy was walking around San Francisco with her friends when she spotted a group of preschool-age children. A caregiver had asked them to hold on to a rope so that they would not stray from the group.
“I kind of blinked once, and suddenly I just had a flash some of the images I had seen,” Daisy says. “Children being tied up, children being raped at that age — three years old. I saw the rope, and I pictured some of the content I saw with children and ropes. And suddenly I stopped, and I was blinking a lot, and my friend had to make sure I was okay. I had to sit down for a second, and I just exploded crying.”
It was the first panic attack she had ever had.
My piece today compares Daisy’s experience with the experiences of low-paid immigrants who work as contract content moderators in Austin, YouTube’s largest content moderation site in the United States.
They work in what’s known as “the VE queue” — a job that requires them to watch 120 videos a day suspected of containing violent extremism. And they, too, suffer from anxiety, depression, and night terrors — for $18.50 an hour.
Google does take steps to care of its employees. It offers them two hours of wellness time per day — compared to nine minutes at Facebook — and access to counselors.
But for some number of its 10,000 moderators, that won’t be enough to prevent them from developing debilitating long-term mental health issues. And Google stops providing care the moment they can no longer do the job.
Content moderation makes the internet safe for the rest of us to use. But after talking to more than 100 moderators over the past year, I believe that the bargain tech companies are offering many of these workers is morally indefensible.
Companies know that these jobs lead to mental health crises. Google has even published research about it, which I cite in the story. And yet tech giants continue to hire thousands of people into relatively low-paid jobs that, for some subset of employees, lead to PTSD.
This is a story about what that feels like, moment to moment. It’s a story about doing the best you can in a situation that feels worse every day. It’s a story about the human cost of making the internet safe.