Microsoft is being sued by two men who worked on the company’s “online safety team,” who claim they have suffered from PTSD after having to view “inhumane and disgusting content” with little or no psychological support.
The Guardian reports that the two men are seeking damages and potential reforms to protect online moderators, who screen online content for images of child sexual abuse, murder and other crimes.
The lawsuit, filed in Washington State, claims that the men now experience “triggers” after being subjected to images that are “designed to entertain the most twisted and sick-minded people in the world.”
The sight of their own children, an adult who looks like a “potential abuser” or kitchen knives can be enough to spark a psychological reaction, a lawyer for the pair, Ben Wells, told the paper. One of the men, Henry Soto, who went on medical leave, says he can no longer look at computers. The other plaintiff, Greg Blauert, suffered a breakdown in 2013 and has not been able to return to work.
In a statement from Microsoft cited by the Guardian, the company said it “takes seriously its responsibility to remove and report imagery of child sexual exploitation and abuse being shared on its services, as well as the health and resiliency of the employees who do this important work.”
Legislation passed in 2008 requires tech companies to report criminal activity online. The online safety team was tasked with keeping the company compliant. The suit claims Soto and Blauert were transferred into the team without being warned about the potential for mental harm.
Microsoft reportedly offered a “wellness program,” but according to the Guardian the complainants argue the help was insufficient, saying they were advised to take walks, smoke breaks and play video games to manage their symptoms.
Soto reportedly said he suffered from nightmares and, in his waking hours, “an internal video screen in his head” displaying gruesome scenes. Blauert is described as having suffered from “intractable crying, insomnia, anxiety and PTSD.”
If the plaintiffs prevail, the suit could impact how tech companies deal with having to police the Internet. Wells, the lawyer, told the Guardian that other firms, such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, may also be struggling to adequately support employees who do the “heroic work” of stopping the spread of depraved, violent and abusive content.
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