Moderation Exasperation
October 23, 2014 8:09 AM   Subscribe

So companies like Facebook and Twitter rely on an army of workers employed to soak up the worst of humanity in order to protect the rest of us. And there are legions of them—a vast, invisible pool of human labor. Hemanshu Nigam, the former chief security officer of MySpace who now runs online safety consultancy SSP Blue, estimates that the number of content moderators scrubbing the world’s social media sites, mobile apps, and cloud storage services runs to “well over 100,000”—that is, about twice the total head count of Google and nearly 14 times that of Facebook.
The Laborers Who Keep Dick Pics and Beheadings Out of Your Facebook Feed
posted by almostmanda (54 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
 
What if I like pictures of detectives?
posted by I-baLL at 8:12 AM on October 23, 2014 [15 favorites]


Blessed are the moderators.
posted by maryr at 8:15 AM on October 23, 2014 [9 favorites]


This is interesting.

1. Nintendo is known to have come up with a way to algorithmically detect and remove naughty drawings from Miiverse posts (which are allowed to be hand written). I wonder if their algorithm really amounts to contracting the work out, or if not maybe they should have?

2. I've been thinking for some time that the circle is starting to close regarding returning to curated internet directories, such as the directory that Yahoo was built off of, as opposed to search engine spidering and searching. Google searches have been steadily getting worse, and such massive pools of cheap labor could make human-compiled lists of interesting sites viable again.
posted by JHarris at 8:16 AM on October 23, 2014 [11 favorites]


I have an acquaintance who did similar work for a few years. The company made you take time off every few weeks because no one can look at that shit all the time and not go a bit nuts. She felt she was doing good work but it definitely affected her for a long time.
posted by sio42 at 8:17 AM on October 23, 2014 [10 favorites]


(I mean, as a large scale thing and organized by subject and sub-subject, as opposed to blogs finding individual sites one at a time, as has been rumored to happen somewhere around these parts.)
posted by JHarris at 8:18 AM on October 23, 2014


We'll build end-to-end encrypted social media in the not too distant future, at which point this becomes impossible.
posted by jeffburdges at 8:20 AM on October 23, 2014 [5 favorites]


2. I've been thinking for some time that the circle is starting to close regarding returning to curated internet directories, such as the directory that Yahoo was built off of, as opposed to search engine spidering and searching. Google searches have been steadily getting worse, and such massive pools of cheap labor could make human-compiled lists of interesting sites viable again.

Believe it or not, DMOZ still exists and is still run by netscape (now owned by AOL)
posted by empath at 8:20 AM on October 23, 2014 [14 favorites]


The sleaze, the violence, the sheer volume of vileness... I take my hat off to anyone who can tolerate being the gatekeeper. I once had an idea for a screenplay with a protagonist who did this job, but then I realized I really didn't know enough to write that character, and also that I *really* didn't want to learn it.
posted by GrammarMoses at 8:30 AM on October 23, 2014 [5 favorites]


Why, why, why are there SO MANY people who want to post this stuff? People who must be dedicating thousands of hours to search for something even more offensive so they have something new to post? And how much more damaged are THEY by the end (if there is an end) of digesting it all -- even compared to how damaged they must've been to want to start?

I'm not naive. And I'm not especially squeamish. But this hit me like a gut-punch.
posted by argonauta at 8:30 AM on October 23, 2014 [6 favorites]


JHarris do you have any good data on the Google searches getting worse thing? Because I've felt that way for a while but just assumed it was some kind of confirmation bias/Baader-Meinhof thing. (I also never reconciled with personalized search but that's another rant.) Is this actually a real thing people are looking at?
posted by Wretch729 at 8:32 AM on October 23, 2014 [1 favorite]


I am extremely curious about the life histories, ideologies, mental disorders, and traumatic experiences (or lack thereof) of people who love posting stuff like this. I mean, genuinely, from a scientific standpoint- what is wrong with these people? I'd like meticulous studies including experiences and environmental exposures through their childhoods, infancies, womb-state, and that of their parents and grandparents to put together a complex understanding of how various variables may bring about people like this. Is there any evidence people like this have every served a useful function in any communities? Are they the descendants of dungeon keepers, torturers, slave holders, executioners, butchers, soldiers and other professions that involve your eyes and mind and spirit engaged in horrors, excruciating torture and filth on a daily or semi-regular basis?



Is there any reason that pumping out gallons of hate of suffering onto the world seems to be such an enjoyable past time for some humans? I'm not even asking rhetorically, I think it's an important field of study.
posted by xarnop at 8:38 AM on October 23, 2014 [28 favorites]


On a website I once ran, we had a new commenting system that didn't allow images or links... but did allow some HTML for formatting. And the parser was a bit crappy, so it was possible to construct badly-formed markup that did import images, which we didn't know until we came in one morning to find thousands and thousands of hardcore porn pictures all over the site.

The tools we had for handling this weren't any good, and the tech team were too busy trying to close up the (as it turned out) class of serious security issues the attack had revealed, so it was down to a bunch of editorial to basically find and remove this stuff effectively by hand. It took a day, during which it stopped being funny extremely quickly.

I cannot imagine doing that as a job for any length of time. I suppose we're all desensitised to mainstream hardcore these days - the sort of thing youporn exists to serve - but a lot of that stuff was beyond that class and some was seriously upsetting, even to us cynical seen-it-all-lived-some-of-it-baby old hands.

If it must be done, and I expect it always must if we're to keep the Internet free access, it's a job that absolutely demands structure and rules and humanity towards its workers. Which will be quite a thing to make happen.
posted by Devonian at 8:44 AM on October 23, 2014 [2 favorites]


Back in the mists of time I was the team lead for the folks running the Usenet installation for a large multinational ISP. It was a really minor part of our other duties until one of our managers got arrested on the grounds that we were peddling porn. So the company now had a challenge because Usenet made them buttloads of money in connect time (this was in the days before unlimited flat-price internet access), but at the same time there were groups that were possibly questionable. So a task that was mostly 10-20 minutes a day of keeping servers running and adding groups to the customer feeds turned into "before you allow a new group to exist on our servers you need to make sure nothing on there is illegal", where "illegal" was fairly vague. And the only way to check the group was to feed it to a test server, look at a couple of messages, and make a decision. Some groups were easy to approve, others were easy to reject, and there was a surprising number whose approval required some sort of discussion with the legal team.

There were many days when I felt I needed a shower and wanted some brain bleach.
posted by Runes at 8:45 AM on October 23, 2014 [5 favorites]


Why, why, why are there SO MANY people who want to post this stuff? People who must be dedicating thousands of hours to search for something even more offensive so they have something new to post?

Not how it happens really. It's just like goatse.cx or rick-rolling. You see someone else post something gross or offensive, then you also post it. It's not like there's one guy out there looking for shit to post. People happen to see something awful somewhere, think '4chan/spacedicks would love this' and post it, then from there the trolls post it elsewhere.
posted by empath at 8:46 AM on October 23, 2014 [1 favorite]


i'm not super familiar with google hangout, but i was at a local design group meeting that was setting up a google hangout so a couple external folks could join in. the person who set it up accidentally made it a "public" hangout, and instantly there was a dude there providing a live video feed of him fiddling with his dick (close-up and quite alarming when projected).

seriously, wtf is the thought process there? you're hanging out at home on a monday night, actively looking for random public google hangouts to enter while masturbating on video??!!

whenever i bump into this sort of thing, i realize that i live a much more sheltered life than i like to think i do.
posted by rude.boy at 8:59 AM on October 23, 2014 [9 favorites]


Nintendo is known to have come up with a way to algorithmically detect and remove naughty drawings from Miiverse posts

I'm imagining a set of platonic ur-dick templates that blaze through the miiverse, detecting and eliminating cock-scrawls that match the template/s within a certain percentage of accuracy.
posted by stinkfoot at 9:01 AM on October 23, 2014 [3 favorites]


JHarris do you have any good data on the Google searches getting worse thing? Because I've felt that way for a while but just assumed it was some kind of confirmation bias/Baader-Meinhof thing.

I suppose I should be clear about this, I have no hard data that wouldn't be susceptible, if it came to it, to observation bias. I judge based on:

- 1. One of the first ten hits is nearly always Wikipedia now, to the extent that if I want to look something up on Wikipedia I actually now go to Google and just search for the words.
- 2. Something I've come to call "search static," where if something really gets popular in the media, searches for it will overwhelm similar things in the results.
- 3. The continued efforts of SEO outfits to game results, often pushing much more interesting and niche sites out of the first page in favor of well-funded site. The holy grail for search results, for me, is still often the plain HTML page, maybe not even using CSS, run by an obsessed enthusiast, or alternatively the blog with a basic Wordpress of Blogger theme but filled with good info. Articles from places like Salon and Slate are good, but sometimes you want it unvarnished by editorial process or presumed reader engagingness value.
- 4. Of course, the news that Google was penalizing Metafilter and its subsites in results for bullshit reasons plays a role in my growing annoyance with them, when it is nearly the ideal of things I would want to find in search results.
- 5. It doesn't help that, while they still mark search result ads as ads, the text they use to indicate this has gotten smaller and fainter over the years, and the background color for the ad box fainter and fainter (actually, now, it's completely white), to the point that sometimes I do mistake the ad for the top result, especially if number of ads has pushed that result off the first screen of results. Search for "Firefox" and the top links are to Yahoo and downloadnet.org, and the only indication is a small yellow "Ad" notification. They've even been mimicing the search result format in these ads, which strikes me uncomfortably like native advertising. This isn't the Google I remember, that trounced AltaVista, Lycos and Excite.

Of these things, 1-3 are pretty subjective. It's heartening to hear someone else thinking that way. Please note that I'm not saying anyone else is better, just that Google seems intangibly worse.
posted by JHarris at 9:03 AM on October 23, 2014 [15 favorites]


I'm imagining a set of platonic ur-dick templates that blaze through the miiverse, detecting and eliminating cock-scrawls that match the template/s within a certain percentage of accuracy.

EVERY WII-U CARRIES BURIED WITHIN IT A LINK TO THE ESSENTIAL METACOCK.
posted by JHarris at 9:05 AM on October 23, 2014 [12 favorites]


I am extremely curious about the life histories, ideologies, mental disorders, and traumatic experiences (or lack thereof) of people who love posting stuff like this.

Yeah. I reckon it might be a bit of a mixed bag. I mean.. I know large numbers of people who think it's very very important to inform me over and over again that puppies are being tortured, greyhounds bled to death, seals clubbed, dolphins slaughtered, sows kept in tiny cages, sharks dumped back in the sea with no fins, diseased sheep all mulched up and poured out the back of live export ships, and cattle with broken legs dragged around on hooks, (etc. etc). That informing is done in some pretty graphic ways.

And the thing is they range from really militant teenage vegetarians who come and vandalise my front gate if I'm so bold as to disagree with them online, to sweet old ladies who run the local native animal rescue place, to a husband and wife team who sell merchandise at the monthly sea shep stall. You know.. I'm not sure there's a type.. maybe they just all care too much?

Anyway, I get left with a bit of a quandary.. Some days I sort of sympathize not just with the basic notion that people shouldn't abuse animals but also with the sincerity and drive that makes other people want to publicise the fact that lots and lots of animals do live terrible existences and die horribly. Other days, I just want to ride around to their houses, one after the other, gently slap them, and say "Who the fuck do you think is seeing this shit? People who disagree with you?"

Instead I make fairly liberal use of the "Acquaintance" button and wish that Facebook in particular had more and better moderators.
posted by Ahab at 9:11 AM on October 23, 2014 [12 favorites]


^This.^

And I'm a vegan. I am aware of what awful awful things are done to animals, but when you send them out to the choir, I'm like, DO YOU REALIZE I WILL BE CURLED UP IN THE FOETAL POSITION ALL DAY NOW
posted by Kitteh at 9:13 AM on October 23, 2014 [7 favorites]


“active moderation,” an especially labor-intensive process in which every single post is screened in real time; many other companies moderate content only if it’s been flagged as objectionable by users, which is known as "reactive moderating"

So, which type of moderation is used by MetaFilter?
posted by Rash at 9:14 AM on October 23, 2014


People need some way to express themselves and be recognized, and in that way, connected to the rest of humanity. Not everyone has the background and resources (internal and external) to start a blog, write op-ed pieces, or write a webcomic. There are vast numbers of people out there with a really strong drive to express themselves, to be seen, and no knowledge of how to do this in a socially acceptable way.

I hope someday soon a way is invented. The ways these folks are currently using could be harmful, and just blocking them doesn't solve the underlying problem. These are potentially real, useful, loving people who just have no way to get connection to other humans.

That said, I'm grateful that I don't have to see a bunch of distracting and disturbing nonsense whenever I try to engage. That would render the net fairly useless. I just hope we can take some of this leisure time we don't have to spend getting food, and spend it finding and inventing ways to make the world better for others. They're still human.
posted by amtho at 9:16 AM on October 23, 2014 [4 favorites]


Ahab and Rash - do they care too much, or do they feel (rightly or wrongly) that they have no other power?
posted by amtho at 9:17 AM on October 23, 2014


Sorry Kitteh. Even my descriptions there were a bit over the top, weren't they.
posted by Ahab at 9:17 AM on October 23, 2014


Ahab, no no. I was merely agreeing that this is exactly the sort of stuff I come across at least a few times a day in my FB/Twitter feed.

I understand that as an animal activist I need to be reminded that why I live as I do isn't all potlucks/cupcakes, but given my huge affection for all animals, it's really upsetting to see it everyday. I'm not saying that I should live with blinders on, but for god's sake, other activists, can we do this once a week instead of daily?
posted by Kitteh at 9:20 AM on October 23, 2014 [1 favorite]


Why, why, why are there SO MANY people who want to post this stuff?

They're isolated from the effects, feel they're anonymous so can get away with it, have a great lack of empathy and insight into the experiences of others, and the failure to see yourself in others. I think that last part is a systemic problem with our culture, the causes I won't get into here.

So, which type of moderation is used by MetaFilter?

I think mostly reactive, but more active in busy or heated threads. It helps that every comment has a flag button.
posted by JHarris at 9:21 AM on October 23, 2014 [5 favorites]


Interesting. And here I thought what kept dick pics and beheadings out of my Facebook feed was not being friends with jackholes who post that kind of thing.
posted by dersins at 9:26 AM on October 23, 2014 [3 favorites]


Alright, no worries and thanks Kitteh. Very much where I'm at too..

Amtho, it's a good question. But I really don't know whether it's about empowerment or not. Maybe it is that, and a lack of knowledge about how facebook works, and that's why it's possible to find such a wide spectrum of people flinging pictures of dolphin heads at others who know, and have seen, and don't need to be told over and over again.

Or maybe (on both sides of the animal abuse coin) this IS actually how we bind ourselves together in communities these days. Bunch of arsehats from 8chan who desperately need to feel they're not jerking off alone in the basement, roadkill cat lulz and rape jokes. Group of intelligent educated left leaning dog lovers who want to have an online chat about stopping puppy mills, pass that picture of a beagle being tortured and pledge to adopt a greyhound.

That thought both saddens and terrifies me.

It's not the lack of moderation by someone else, it's the lack we exercise ourselves.
posted by Ahab at 9:42 AM on October 23, 2014 [2 favorites]


First, to all who moderate... you have my condolences.... Forever and ever. Amen.

Second, I hadn't hit up DMOZ in more than half a decade. I had no clue that it was still active. True to form, in the lower right hand corner is one of the original Mozilla logos by Dave Titus. Yay 90's nostalgia!
posted by PROD_TPSL at 9:43 AM on October 23, 2014 [4 favorites]


That was a very interesting article. One thing that it brought to mind is the current complaints about, say, twitter's moderator/flagging system, which has been heavily (and rightly) criticized for allowing a lot of harassment, including things where you can't report accounts unless you're the target.

I wonder if part of the problem is that the only people the corps have on it are all in a pool - so that when they see things like "I'm going to rape and kill you, blah blah", they can't really help but compare it to the rest of their day, seeing actual beheadings and child porn - they're understandably going to be less concerned. Not that they're correct, but it's kind of classic desensitization.

Almost needs to be a multi-pool system. Maybe a preliminary computer analysis to categorize it, or a flagging system like ours, which gets sent on to the right "pool", who get some training on what's acceptable in that framework. Plus then you can rotate people around, which could help reduce the mental toll.
posted by Lemurrhea at 9:56 AM on October 23, 2014 [4 favorites]


But where law enforcement has developed specialized programs and hires experienced mental health professionals, Stevenson says that many technology companies have yet to grasp the seriousness of the problem.

So wait: you're telling me that the same tech industry that thinks "blithely ignoring regulations for labor, transportation, lodging, etc." equals "innovation" doesn't grasp that there are grave costs to a business model that requires employing an army of sin-eaters? Oh my stars and garters.
posted by Cash4Lead at 9:58 AM on October 23, 2014 [8 favorites]


Second, I hadn't hit up DMOZ in more than half a decade.

This thread probably generated more hits than it's had in that long.
posted by empath at 10:00 AM on October 23, 2014


I was a volunteer on the LiveJournal Terms of Service team back in 2003/2004 (we had two staff overseeing, about 15 volunteers, and a quota of cases to do each week with flexibility for life happening, burnout, etc.)

I think one of the things that actually helped us is that while most of us had some kinds of cases we liked dealing with more than others, we all did a bit of everything - it was a lot easier to avoid both burnout and keep things in perspective that way. But that means a bit of everything - we did DMCA reports, notes from parents concerned about their kid's use of the site, some stuff that looked not that weird and went down rabbit holes of weird when you poked at it, as well as both very graphic stuff and sort of basic social harassment where you'd explain the tools to help with it and move on. The mix helped me a lot, anyway.

(And also I think the fact that we had direct contact with the people making reports: when you could help someone, you got the feedback that you had actually helped another real human being. Of course, the times when we couldn't help were not fun - we got, f'example, a lot of reports of people being harassed on other services as well as LJ, and had to do "We'd love to help, but we are not AIM/IRC/Whatever Other Site, and we can't make them behave over there, we are not ruler of the Internets, and you wouldn't want us to be.")

On the responding vs. active monitoring, one of the reasons most sites go for responding to complaints is that if you claim active montoring, you have to get it right *all the time* or there's major legal complications (in the US/for US based sites, anyway). If you say "We'll review based on reports", then you can take action on something you spot if you choose to, but if you have an (entirely human, because no human does this stuff perfectly all the time) slip or someone missing something, it doesn't put your entire site in trouble.
posted by modernhypatia at 10:07 AM on October 23, 2014 [7 favorites]


I like to think this content all comes from actual, literal demons, deep in Hell, sitting at long tables with computers on them, much like the Filipino moderators, except on fire and stuff.
posted by resurrexit at 10:14 AM on October 23, 2014 [2 favorites]


Creating this kind of content is evidence that you are disturbed. But is the desire to view it (which generates the bulk of the distribution) really the same? I remember reading JG Ballard's 'Crash' in which a man achieves orgasm by inserting his penis into the wounds of traffic accident victims, and that's part of the canon of great literature now.
posted by colie at 10:22 AM on October 23, 2014


but at the same time there were groups that were possibly questionable.

A number of ISPs solved this mostly by eliminating alt.*

people who think it's very very important to inform me over and over again that puppies are being tortured

I have a sense that this is something that appears non-political or even non-controversial. It's sort of an acceptable outlet for expression in a broad demographic. I mean, who would defend puppy torture? Surely by not wanting to see puppy torture you aren't one of the torturers, are you? etc.

I'm fortunate/curated enough that my feed is pretty much accepting of more-than-occasional political messaging. My heart rate remains much lower after making sure that it stays that way (e.g. Acquaintancing, etc.).
posted by dhartung at 10:23 AM on October 23, 2014


Creating this kind of content is evidence that you are disturbed. But is the desire to view it (which generates the bulk of the distribution) really the same? I remember reading JG Ballard's 'Crash' in which a man achieves orgasm by inserting his penis into the wounds of traffic accident victims, and that's part of the canon of great literature now.

I can't tell you what it says about me but I was just going to admit that when I was a bit younger I absolutely kept abreast of the latest internet shock material on purpose - two parts rubbernecking morbid curiosity, one part some sort of masochistic pride. I'm not trying to be act "hardcore" or dismissing people who have a hard time with this stuff - if anything this is a confession. I'm just wondering if I'm really the only one here. And I guess I kind of feel like I should have been paid now.
posted by atoxyl at 10:34 AM on October 23, 2014 [3 favorites]


I've certainly been in the office when a gore video was watched by half a dozen young men, including me. I'd turn away now, but for young males there is certainly a 'can you take it?' factor, plus a desire to keep finding something more and more transgressive.
posted by colie at 10:39 AM on October 23, 2014 [9 favorites]


Why, why, why are there SO MANY people who want to post this stuff?

Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory.

I remember reading JG Ballard's 'Crash' in which a man achieves orgasm by inserting his penis into the wounds of traffic accident victims

The leg-wound-fucking moment in that movie was when I noped right on outta there.

Also I kind of wonder if the loss of the img tag (which yeah was for other reasons) is one of the things that's helped keep MeFi a relatively sane corner of the internet.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:59 AM on October 23, 2014 [1 favorite]


Also I kind of wonder if the loss of the img tag (which yeah was for other reasons) is one of the things that's helped keep MeFi a relatively sane corner of the internet.

The $5 entrance fee probably helps too. Related to that is the fact that MeFi doesn't rely on the SV business model of exponential growth such that only a combination of algorithms and lowly-paid humans can keep the site content even halfway tolerable.

I'm with JHarris: hand-made and -curated content (hello, tilde.club) is due for a comeback. If the tradeoff on the Internet is easy access vs. decency, as seems to be the case, I'm gonna go with decency.
posted by Cash4Lead at 11:10 AM on October 23, 2014 [4 favorites]


"I don’t mean to traumatize you but beheadings don’t happen quickly" was one of the most disturbing parts of the article. I guess I thought it was a quick thwack of a sword and it's done. It didn't occur to me that it'd be a sawing motion or something.
posted by desjardins at 11:13 AM on October 23, 2014


People need some way to express themselves and be recognized, and in that way, connected to the rest of humanity.

This is part of it not the whole story. The other half of the dynamic is there are so many people in the world and it is hard to get noticed at all. And it is far easier and far more likely to get a negative reaction than a positive one so that's what a lot of people are going to go for a lot of the time.
posted by bukvich at 11:16 AM on October 23, 2014 [1 favorite]


I'm sympathetic to the idea of awareness generating- especially when general society has accepted barbaric practices as normal. I don't think that's the bulk of why this stuff is so popular (though it's there). I'm genuinely sympathetic to most things I can find a reason for other than just cultivating sadism and brutality within the human mind which is not a cause I support for recreational purpose. If there is some purpose to it that actually alleviates suffering and uplifts humanity I always want to hear about that, as a harm reductionist I can see abolitionist movements toward any negative thing can sometimes be worse than harm reduction (although harm reduction can be kind of gross when applied to permitted harmful human practice that are really damaging). I'm not convinced this behavior isover all anything useful, but I'm also not convinced that it doesn't. Sadism is useful for carrying out a lot of things humans do to survive. Trying to hunt/fight brutal wars/witness horrific crimes on humans with in tact empathy will make people go insane with grief and pain.

So ensuring there are at least some people in the population who could dampen empathy to handle surviving in such circumstances and doing what needs to be done even witnessing and/or committing such horrors seems logistically like a reasonable survival strategy. One would hope that if we were able to advance to a period where there was less need of such brutal survival skills they might drop out of being so active in the human mind or population. As a fan of epigenetics, I'm genuinely curious as to how various levels of brutality/war/famine/abuses across hundreds of years effects the behavioral traits and instincts of such populations following descendants over generations. There is plenty of evidence that in the short term traumatic experiences can impact instincts and behavior of offspring, and I imagine there are patterns over longer periods of time driven by such mechanisms of environmental and social variables- and estimated instinctual needs given ancestral experiential factors.
posted by xarnop at 11:22 AM on October 23, 2014 [1 favorite]


Rule 34 by mefis own cstross riffs on this a bit
posted by lalochezia at 11:24 AM on October 23, 2014


I'm imagining a set of platonic ur-dick templates that blaze through the miiverse

Eigendicks.
posted by jjwiseman at 11:33 AM on October 23, 2014 [3 favorites]


About the last ten comments or so..

That's the terrifying bit about it.

If it's acceptable to use extreme imagery of any kind as a quick symbolic shorthand instead of conversation, and the tendency is towards the negative either because it gets more of a reaction or simply because (not having a go atoxyl or colie) the norm of popular culture (or a significant set of sub-cultures) is moving towards more overtly and deliberately transgressive imagery then..

my griping about facebook not having enough moderators is really just pointless whining into the wind..

because even with legions of underpaid, unenthusiastic, cross-cultural moderators..

we've set ourselves on a course of throwing more and more horrific pictures at each other, in a fashion that ultimately traumatises and desensitises us (not just our moderators), so that we're then able to chuck even more traumatising and desensitising material at each other..

until it's blood and gore all the way down.

And the solution there isn't, can't be, to dump the responsibility for what should be our own self control (not to mention the consequences of us having none) onto digital sweatshop workers in the Philippines.

You can't f..kin outsource basic social decency and civility.
posted by Ahab at 11:52 AM on October 23, 2014 [2 favorites]




I don't know if it's the sadism that was useful, xarnop, rather than just the dampening of empathy, as you put it. My personal belief is that some people's empathy dampening mechanism overshoots its target for one reason or another. Dampened empathy is useful for "keeping the dogs at the door" or providing a buffer to more dangerous types, but it also seems like if it were dialed back far enough, there wouldn't be a need for the likes of hunts, brutal wars, and horrible crimes in the first place.

Regarding epigenetics, there may also be people with genes that are overly sensitive to certain environmental triggers. Or maybe the sensitivity is intact, but there's no real pressure release valve for how the dampened empathy (or sadism) manifests. I really don't know enough to speculate if these triggers could be related to self-defense and resource management rather than a more proactive form of survivability. But as for a more direct explanation of the how and why, JHarris makes the same major points I would have:

> They're isolated from the effects, feel they're anonymous so can get away with it, have a great lack of empathy and insight into the experiences of others, and the failure to see yourself in others. I think that last part is a systemic problem with our culture, the causes I won't get into here.

I absolutely sympathize with this and your earlier comment questioning how and why human beings are capable of generating such hate and negativity in the first place. There's a certain button of mine that gets pressed when thinking about all the social scientists (psychologists in particular) who have the capabilities to research the human behavior that truly puts our society and species at risk, but instead decide to research a million other less important phenomena. As soon as I heard of the dark triad, I asked why it wasn't one of the most heavily researched areas of personality, and continue asking ever since.
posted by Johann Georg Faust at 12:16 PM on October 23, 2014 [3 favorites]


Shudder......could not pay me to do this job.
Worked a crisis line years ago helping victims and that job gave me nightmares.
posted by Gwynarra at 12:17 PM on October 23, 2014


so

this may be a controversial opinion. I'm not very happy with it myself.

I think there's a confusing boundary between "Things that are bad" and "Things that I don't want to know about".

I think that the things in the first category should be handled by society's laws, not just brushed over by a corporation trying to sell a product.

I think things in the second category should not be prejudiced against by people. The fact that their ideas are offensive to me is my own problem, I think. And the fact that some of my beliefs (about god, government, human rights etc) are offensive to others, well that's their problem.

I don't know that I feel comfortable with the idea that a corporation gets to choose which ideas are ok to broadcast based on which ideas are marketable. Because once that mechanism is in place, then what happens when my ideas aren't marketable?

Obviously a corporation can do what it wants. All I'm saying is that I am not sure how I feel about it.
posted by rebent at 12:26 PM on October 23, 2014 [1 favorite]


EVERY WII-U CARRIES BURIED WITHIN IT A LINK TO THE ESSENTIAL METACOCK.

Is this Lacanian poetry?
posted by kewb at 2:32 PM on October 23, 2014 [1 favorite]


I've done this kind of moderation in the past and wasn't very affected, hooray childhood disassociation skills, but I have definitely had periodic moments of fridge horror. One thing that the experience kind of highlighted for me, though, was how different it looks between having to deal with it as a user/forum moderator and having to judge as a content moderator. I've done both and they are really, really different in practice.

When I'm dealing with something as a user/forum moderator, I can generally see how the tiny things flow into the larger things, and how the smaller things inflame and infuriate the larger things, how they grow together. Moderating from the start lets me see that. There's networks in the way people spark off each other and they're not super easy to track all the time, but it's not very hard either to sort of catch how things build once you get the context mostly down. More or less, because people are complicated.

But in content moderation, it's the worst of it, all the time, every time. The smaller things just weren't that connected, there wasn't much sense of the organic flow of small+small+small+boom offensive images or whichever, because the worst was the worst and that was the part we generally got to deal with. A lot of people just don't flag readily unless it's really bad, and some other people act as users and flag relatively innocuous things that we let pass because we didn't have that organic sense for the conversation the way the users did -- we just didn't have time to learn that context for every conversation, so we made a snap judgement.

The sense of "we are dealing with people communicating" was removed altogether and I think for this kind of moderation dealing with this kind of material that is, overall, a pretty good call. What I don't like is how much of this work is made invisible from the other end, how that sense of dealing with people gets removed for people who use the site and post this stuff when content moderation comes in. For user/forum moderating that is generally not an issue, moderators are generally known to be who they are and so on. Content moderation? Nope. So all you know is your image "got deleted". You don't know that you made the new guy retch last night's dinner. You don't know that your child porn pic has already been deleted thousands of times. You don't know that "got deleted" is shorthand for "contributed to harm".
posted by E. Whitehall at 3:45 PM on October 23, 2014 [3 favorites]


Having been involved in this kind of moderation, I think one of the major issues with moderator burnout is that many systems don't give moderators enough powers. They have powers to pull individual posts, but can't just suspend the account of the poster. Yahoo! Answers, for instance, used to have a very effective insider user group with "kill on sight" powers against accounts recognisable as regular trolls and obsessives. Since some management reorganisation earlier this year, they've scrapped this, with predictable consequences.
posted by raygirvan at 4:50 PM on October 23, 2014 [5 favorites]


Constant exposure to videos like this has turned some of Maria’s coworkers intensely paranoid. Every day they see proof of the infinite variety of human depravity. They begin to suspect the worst of people they meet in real life, wondering what secrets their hard drives might hold.

This resonated with me. After spending so much time in the #Ferguson hashtag in the past 2 1/2 months, I think I'm starting to get a little bit of this kind of PTSD. I've seen protesters reporting in real-time, with photographic evidence, that they're being stalked by police officers—while their family members are simultaneously being threatened with robbery and assault by people on Twitter. I've seen and heard officers reporting protesters to their workplaces. I've watched Vines and looked at hundreds of photos over multiple nights when police herded and shot and tear-gassed and beat and corraled protesters. I've seen pictures of blood on the inside of police vans. I've seen entire botnets running Twitter accounts devoted to harassing a rotating cast of politicians. I've seen what actually happened so many times, only to see it directly contradicted in later statements by the police. And I've seen and read so many grossly racist and wrong things—and it feels like that's only gotten worse in the past 77 days. There is so much hate out there, and it's really getting me down.

Unlike content moderators, though, I'm not paid to witness this—I just feel like it's my duty to be there for the people on the ground. But seeing all of this is definitely changing me, perhaps in some of the same ways these moderators have experienced. The positive aspect of it is that it's changing my frame of reference; I feel like I have a new set of lenses on in a lot of respects, and that's good. But goddamn there are some messed up people out there.
posted by limeonaire at 6:25 PM on October 24, 2014 [3 favorites]


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