Human filters for the sewage pits of the Internet
August 30, 2012 5:24 PM   Subscribe

Who scrubs the Internet of its awfulness? Buzzfeed interviews a former employee of the National Center of Missing and Exploited Children tasked with processing reports of child porn. [Buzzfeed url and title is nsfw, trigger warning for sexual assault & exploitation]
posted by desjardins (31 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
The paragraph at the end about the article eliciting job seeking responses may seem weird, but it actually happened to me. Both earlier, hearing about these kinds of jobs, and now, reading this article, I thought to myself that this is a job I could do, that I could probably be good at.

I have a job I love, so it's all hypothetical, but still. I'm not sure why I would think that, or consider a job like that. Maybe it's a part of me saying "I'm tough enough to handle this". That might be bluster, but it might also be a realization that I've seen a lot of stuff, it takes a lot to faze me, and I could do this job, which is a job that needs doing, so that someone else who'd be more affected by it wouldn't have to.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 6:05 PM on August 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


i have a friend who had a job doing a similar thing for a while. she saw lots of stuff she couldn't unsee.

i'd like to read this article but i don't think i can. she couldn't really talk about what she saw and apparently there was some kind of psychologist on staff at all times for any of the employees.

i guess i'm just glad there are people who do these jobs. this is the stuff the internet does need scrubbed of.

worrying about piracy seems so small compared to this.
posted by sio42 at 6:11 PM on August 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


sio42: "i'd like to read this article but i don't think i can."

Far be it from me to tell you what to do, but if it helps in deciding, there's not a lot of graphic detail in this article at all, apart from a single, two-word phrase suggesting more murder than sexual abuse, at the very beginning (I actually wondered about this phrase, since it seems a bit out of place). The article is much more about the people who do the work and its effects on them than it is about describing what they see.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 6:20 PM on August 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


I have to give props to all the detectives out there who work on doing things like tracking down an international child porn ring with the only real clue being a stuffed bunny.

(Just reading that article is triggery, btw).
posted by symbioid at 6:22 PM on August 30, 2012


I too was wondering how I could get a job like this before I finished the article. Difference is, I actually need a job. Being a college dropout has left me with few options to raise decent capital so I may as well trade in my soul - my only valuable asset. I've also been considering working the Alberta oil patch or getting into high finance, but this body is not built for roughnecking and I'm a terrible liar.
posted by Seiten Taisei at 6:27 PM on August 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


I worked alongside the team that dealt with this sort of thing at Myspace for a few years. I saw my share of upsetting images(and rarely child related, since the moment one person saw one, there were procedures so no one else would), but I wasn't part of the team that dealt with this stuff firsthand.

Most people don't know that for a long time, every single picture that was ever uploaded to Myspace passed through a pair of human eyes, if only in thumbnail format. These people were mostly temps, and the lowest paid at the company. The people working most closely with NCMEC and submitting reports to them were a second support tier(and slightly better paid, although sometimes also temps), but the first person to note a problematic image was usually a low wage temp worker.
posted by sawdustbear at 6:27 PM on August 30, 2012 [6 favorites]


It was an interesting article. The worker that was interviewed at the greatest length--at least as reflected by how extensively quoted she was--had insight into her own reaction to what she saw and reasons that she felt more and more alienated. It would be a tough job, but I'd like to think I could do it.
posted by beelzbubba at 6:29 PM on August 30, 2012


In the addendum of the article, it mentions people asking about how to get these kinds of jobs and how much it pays.

Anyone know what kind of pay bracket these kinds of offer?
posted by porpoise at 6:29 PM on August 30, 2012


I can probably take a good educated guess as to the pay brackets(or at least the equivalent positions, you can extrapolate pay based on your area) for these jobs, at least for the tech company end of things.

The people most likely to be viewing these images directly are content review, which is usually a support position. So...about as much as you'd make at a call center, or customer support, although the companies that would hire for these positions(tech companies) will usually pay more than min wage.

You'd get a job like that by applying to the company directly, or being available for support positions through a temp agency, although I'm not sure that this specific task would be called out as a position separate from "customer support" or "site administrator." (but as the article says, this department is usually called "Safety," so you might get job titles like "safety specialist") You probably will not need a degree, or any relevant experience - it's usually an entry level job.

I have no idea what NCMEC would pay, but having talked to several people who work with that organization, I suspect that it's not money that drives their dedication to their jobs.
posted by sawdustbear at 6:40 PM on August 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


It would be a tough job, but I'd like to think I could do it.

The thing that struck me as I was reading through (and I'm no expert on this kind of stuff at all) is that the way to make a job like this work would be to:

A. keep the actual work shifts short (say, no more than two hours a day dealing with the extreme stuff) and

B. divide it up amongst as many people as possible -- share the disease as it were.

This would make it more of a team thing with all the inherent support and solidarity that being part of a team gives you. I have a couple of friends who used to be paramedics and they definitely valued their co-workers when it came to working through the extreme stresses of the job ... because some jobs you just can't take home with you. Home doesn't get it.
posted by philip-random at 6:51 PM on August 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Back in the day, I worked at one of the first nationwide (US) ISPs, and I'd worked my way up from dial-up support to "business" support - ISDN, Frame Relay, and a handful of website customers. I worked second shift, so there weren't any corporate honchos around and I was the de facto floor lead, so first-level support would come to me with anything outside their scope. One day, one of the dial-up techs came to me and said, "Hey, I just had a guy call in having trouble with his site, and...uh, I guess you should look at this. I don't know what to do."

It was, ostensibly, a naturalist website, but the scope of all of the photos (all, like, six of them? It was the mid-90s) were children. Just running around outside, playing in a stream, no adults in the photos, but...yeah. I got the same bad vibe the tech had gotten. I sent it up the administrative chain and the site got taken down and I had some long hard thinking to do about the world and some of the people in it. And I had some long hard thinking about where the lines get drawn and whether I wanted to be the one drawing them.

I was an internet-savvy person and had watched a couple of interesting photos of grownups resolve a line at a time before, but it honestly hadn't occurred to me until that day that there could and would be some bad, bad things that I would not be able to un-see. No matter how noble the cause, I couldn't see those things for a living. I admire those who do - and I doubt they are well paid because it doesn't make any money.
posted by Lyn Never at 6:54 PM on August 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


Back in an even earlier day, when only a few people knew what the internet was and even fewer had access to it, I worked in one-hour photo labs. We would occasionally (but not infrequently) get nudie pictures, and they sometimes involved children. Knowing when and where to draw the line was really difficult. (The line was, don't process the pictures and hand back the negative vs. call the cops.) I always left work with a bad feeling in my stomach on those days.

I can't imagine how that stuff has proliferated now that the internet is around to facilitate all of the little business facets of the child porn thing. Happening across questionable pictures every couple weeks really got to me. Looking at them eight hours a day seems soul-crushing.
posted by mudpuppie at 7:05 PM on August 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Machines are long way[sic] from being able to automatically remove the most awful images mankind has to offer — child porn, beheadings, forced bestiality — from our favorite sites and social networks.


What constitutes "forced" bestiality? Is the animal or the human being forced? Can animals ever consent?

(These are serious questions)
posted by dave78981 at 7:14 PM on August 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've always wondered about how sites like imgur and photobucket do their content reviews. Is it machine flagged as a first step? Does it rely solely on human flagging? Are images actually reviewed by people? When it's thousands per hour (or minute) how can they keep up?
posted by maxwelton at 7:15 PM on August 30, 2012


NCMEC is a really interesting organization. I'll start by saying that there is no doubt in my mind that the people that work there are extraordinarily dedicated to what they do and I'm glad someone is out there doing it.

At the same time, they are not a governmental agency, and are beholden to none of the rules or Constitutional strictures that would bind a law enforcement agency yet they work hand in hand with the DOJ and local equivalents. They have also been strident in their support for all kinds of proposals that would strip privacy protections in the online space in the name of "preventing" child pornography. I'm conflicted about NCMEC and that's understating it.
posted by Inkoate at 8:08 PM on August 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


One thing is that the Internet really is censored. Moreover, such censorship is a good thing -- and we all feel empathy for the censors who must slog through filth. For all the screaming about free speech, some things -- "child porn, beheadings, bestiality" -- ought to be off limits.
posted by Yakuman at 8:36 PM on August 30, 2012


Lyn Never: "It was, ostensibly, a naturalist website, but the scope of all of the photos (all, like, six of them? It was the mid-90s) were children. Just running around outside, playing in a stream, no adults in the photos, but...yeah. I got the same bad vibe the tech had gotten. I sent it up the administrative chain and the site got taken down and I had some long hard thinking to do about the world and some of the people in it."

It sounds like an uncomfortable experience, and I obviously haven't seen the photos, but it seems unjustified to take the site down, at least from your description. Photos of naked children running around outside, with nothing sexual involved or implied, shouldn't be, and AFAIK aren't, illegal.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 9:47 PM on August 30, 2012


I'll never be able to find it again, but there was a reddit comment in the last month by a guy who worked for a large ISP filtering CP images. He answered a lot of questions about how he got his job, what sort of counseling they offered, etc.

The thread to which it was posted involved an article about a guy who was sentenced to years in prison for unwittingly downloading a folder via FTP that included images of underage people (don't remember if boys or girls). Other comments established that intent didn't matter, CP was solely a crime of possession. Maybe this will sound familiar to someone.
posted by desjardins at 9:50 PM on August 30, 2012


I thought it was a bit odd how they sort of implicated Amazon in this article. Basically every web company that isn't Google or Facebook scale stores their images using Amazon S3 because it's cost-effective and convenient. It's a storage mechanism--I don't think it relates at all to the policing of content. It would almost (but definitely not the same) as implicating Samsung for make the hard drives.
posted by !Jim at 9:55 PM on August 30, 2012


Other comments established that intent didn't matter, CP was solely a crime of possession.

Which is really fraught, isn't it? Some asshat friend of yours sends you a link to a page which contains images like that (a friend in the 1990s sent me a link to a page which gathered images from alt.binaries.tasteless, for example without saying anything other than the equivalent of "check out these images, bro"...there were fucking dead kids on it, jesus) and you glance, and quickly click back and unfriend them or whatever...but you "downloaded" those images, right? I mean, if you didn't empty your cache, they're there on your computer somewhere, at least for awhile.

I could probably do this job for awhile, but not if it felt like some sort of progress wasn't being made.
posted by maxwelton at 10:06 PM on August 30, 2012


Which beheadings are we talking about here?

No one wants to see Phan Thị Kim Phúc running from a napalm fire or Nguyễn Văn Lém get shot over dinner but it is kind of a matter of historical significance. Maybe I'm not mature enough to understand why this is a good thing, but it seems to me that grouping what is essentially war footage in with children being abused is kind of creepy.
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 10:27 PM on August 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


Whatever these people get paid, it's not enough.
posted by deborah at 10:50 PM on August 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


For all the screaming about free speech, some things -- "child porn, beheadings, bestiality" -- ought to be off limits.

Disagree, at least with stating it as categorical as that. Especially when get essentially private companies to decide whether or not an image is too wrong for the internet.
posted by MartinWisse at 10:57 PM on August 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'm guessing here but "forced beastiality" probably means the human in the action didn't want it either.
posted by dabitch at 11:28 PM on August 30, 2012


Someone's gotta do it. I'm just glad it ain't me.

I've only ever once saw something on the net bad enough that it messed me up, and it pretty well convinced me that looking at horrible things was highly overrated and something i'd rather not do.
posted by dethb0y at 11:57 PM on August 30, 2012


I was the webmaster for a large ISP in the 1990's, which meant I was effectively the guy for any of the 10s of thousands of users' free websites (remember /~username/) as well as my real job.
There were a few incidents where stuff had to get closed down, but those involved the police.
More often, it was legitimate adult content that suddenly went ballistic with traffic and we had to convince a customer to pay traffic charges or remove the site.
What was annoying though, was the moral crusaders who demanded we remove photos of somebody's kids playing on the beach naked that were just snaps from a larger family album of a beach holiday, because 'perverts' would use those pics for perverted purposes.
There was a very large number of people all over the world (but, yes, I'm looking at you America) who felt it their duty to complain about racy legal pictures or innocent kid pictures, and would do so with threats of law suits and calls to law enforcement.
posted by bystander at 1:36 AM on August 31, 2012 [3 favorites]


I had thought about posting this a short while ago, but I didn't think I could do it justice with what was basically a Buzzfeed link, but here is a NYT story from 2010 on the same topic if anyone wants to read it.

I think there was a discussion on Slashdot about it at the time, and there were some real concerns about these people on minimal wages with no support.

I, for one, could not do this job. Even for an hour.
posted by Mezentian at 3:26 AM on August 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


There was a very large number of people all over the world ...who felt it their duty to complain about racy legal pictures or innocent kid pictures

I think to a lot of people, that kind of stuff is the extent they understand of the evil of child porn, and they have no idea about the material that this article discusses, which is the literal documentation of rape and other horrific abuse. I couldn't do this work, no way.
posted by thelonius at 4:11 AM on August 31, 2012


Just curious, wouldn't it be better to use convicted ring inmates to do the scrubbing? 1. they're desensitzed and 2. they know what to look for, where to look for, and be an insider?

I'm just wondering; to spare normal people working at this job.

As a side story, my ex was head of internet at a large hospital. He fixed a doc's computer and found all sorts of questionable and illegal items. I honestly don't know if he reported it. I told him to but I think he was so shocked/uncomfortable, he just froze. Takes all kinds.
posted by stormpooper at 7:16 AM on August 31, 2012


Just curious, wouldn't it be better to use convicted ring inmates to do the scrubbing?

They might be desensitised (perhaps, I doubt that), but I suspect there's a good chance they might be collectors and traders.
posted by Mezentian at 7:34 AM on August 31, 2012


Which is really fraught, isn't it? Some asshat friend of yours sends you a link to a page...

Along the lines of the post about low level drug users be coerced to become informants, I know of a guy who was a pretty major pot dealer, but they just couldn't catch him with a shipment on hand. Someone who knew him got into some trouble, and his job became sending CP, provided by law enforcement, to this guy, along the lines of, "check this out."

Not long after it was sent, the dealer's house was raided, and he was convicted of possession of the images, and imprisoned. Sounds like entrapment, I know, maybe the dealer responded to the email with something less than outrage.
posted by StickyCarpet at 1:50 PM on August 31, 2012


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