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The Worst Job At Google: a Year of Watching Terrible Things On the Internet 535

Posted by Soulskill
from the rather-flip-burgers dept.
Cutting_Crew writes "Gizmodo has called attention to a story that describes the worst job you can get at Google: wading through and blocking objectionable content, which includes watching decapitations and beastiality. A ex-Google-employee who did just that tells his own story of a year-long stint of looking at the most horrible things on the internet. In the end, he needed therapy, and since he was a contractor, he was let go instead of being hired as a full time employee."
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The Worst Job At Google: a Year of Watching Terrible Things On the Internet

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  • Lightweight (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 21, 2012 @03:33PM (#41073187)

    This guy gets paid to do what 4chaners happily do for free and he complains about needing therapy. .. On the other hand, I smell a crowd source opportunity.

  • Editors (Score:5, Informative)

    by A Big Gnu Thrush (12795) on Tuesday August 21, 2012 @03:35PM (#41073207)

    Bestiality not beastiality.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 21, 2012 @03:35PM (#41073221)

    An unnamed police department in the United States had a policy for child pornography investigators:

    * You could only do it for a few months then it was someone else's turn
    * You had mandatory psychological help

    Oh, and you had to be trained ahead of time.

    • by nurb432 (527695)

      Actual *investigating* would be a far cry than just looking at images fly past your face.

      In those cases the police get up and personal with what is going on, sometimes for months on end, the children and the offenders. They get involved. This is why they are effected.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I used to be a content moderator and then a trainer for content moderators, and I can tell you that it's slightly different. Child pornography investigators will spend a lot of time over a small amount of images, all of which are horrific. Content moderation is all about getting through a large amount of material quickly, most of which will turn out to be false positives.

      Two months isn't an option. It takes a month to get up to an acceptable speed, and about three months to really hit your stride. You have

  • by Trepidity (597) <delirium-slashdot AT hackish DOT org> on Tuesday August 21, 2012 @03:36PM (#41073235)

    Here [nytimes.com] is a 2010 New York Times article on the same subject. Seems like not much has changed. Apparently a bunch of it is outsourced, which in addition to the nature of the work, leads to questions about content privacy, especially when some of the images being reviewed are non-public (e.g. stuff you've sent through Facebook messages).

  • by Cutting_Crew (708624) on Tuesday August 21, 2012 @03:37PM (#41073261)
    First, Did google not describe to the employees what exactly they would be doing? I know they said, "sensitive content" but that could mean a whole variety of things. Second, there is one thing that we all kid about and talk about and porn is one of them and I am sure that there are solid studies indicating that this does effect people in harsh ways. Its another thing to go venturing off into beheadings, beastiality and the like and not even get any kind of support from a company that has billions of cash. The least they could have done would have been to offer a support program, some take away money when leaving or *gasp* how about a full time position doing something more humane?
  • Bloody hell ... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by gstoddart (321705) on Tuesday August 21, 2012 @03:38PM (#41073277) Homepage

    Wow, I figure if anybody had to do that for a year, they should be given a pension, a quiet place to get away from things, and a LOT of therapy.

    I can't imagine being the poor bastard that has to look at the worst stuff on the internet. I've glimpsed enough to know that I wouldn't want to see any more of it. I'm frequently appalled at some of the things people choose to see.

    I think even the law enforcement guys can get fucked up from this, and they understand the need for support systems. Your first job our of school? That would ruin you forever.

    • Re:Forever (Score:5, Insightful)

      by TaoPhoenix (980487) <TaoPhoenix@yahoo.com> on Tuesday August 21, 2012 @03:43PM (#41073399) Journal

      Maybe, just maybe not.
      Agreed with a little help afterwards, you could pull ahead of it such that "nothing can shock you ever again". They do it in the Military all the time, though in a more physical style.

      • Re:Forever (Score:5, Insightful)

        by gstoddart (321705) on Tuesday August 21, 2012 @03:53PM (#41073561) Homepage

        Agreed with a little help afterwards, you could pull ahead of it such that "nothing can shock you ever again". They do it in the Military all the time, though in a more physical style.

        I would argue that if you take the most bad-assed military, police, or what have you ... unless someone has some serious issues of their own already which would make them enjoy it (which pretty much disqualifies them from doing the job), this kind of stuff 8 hours/day for a year is going to seriously fuck you up.

        Unless you really want your military made up of vicious sadists, I completely fail to see how this kind of thing wouldn't cause lasting damage -- or at least the need for some heavy duty counseling and support.

        That much exposure to every single horrible thing that ever gets filmed is bound to wear down anybody. And anybody it doesn't, likely scores in the very scary end of humanity.

      • by jeko (179919) on Tuesday August 21, 2012 @04:33PM (#41074115)

        Agreed with a little help afterwards, you could pull ahead of it such that "nothing can shock you ever again". They do it in the Military all the time, though in a more physical style.

        The U.S. Army Reports Record High Suicide Rates for July [huffingtonpost.com]

        Experts: Vets' PTSD, violence a growing problem [cnn.com]

        Maybe not.

  • by Sir_Sri (199544) on Tuesday August 21, 2012 @03:40PM (#41073327)

    It's unfortunate google doesn't take better care of the people they hire for this work, given the job as described it's not really surprising it fucks a lot of people up. You'd kinda think there should be a fairly extensive training programme first, and then a coping programme after, if nothing else because you really need to weed out the ones who are there because they enjoy it.

    • You also need to have regular screenings so that you can see how it is changing people over time... and pull the plug on them sooner rather than later. I see the scenario as being more one of: contract for 1 year; screen at hiring, at start of job, after 1 month, 3 months, 6 months, 1 year. If at any point, their psych profile shifts in a statistically meaningful way, pull them off frontline work and get them doing any of the other jobs required in that department, at least until their profile stabilizes

  • by Sasayaki (1096761) on Tuesday August 21, 2012 @03:40PM (#41073339)

    Sounds pretty crappy. My first thought was, "It's basically being paid to look at the very worst threads on /b/. And basically being unable to stop unless you want to be jobless."

    They better have paid well, because while I consider myself pretty desensitized to a lot of things there's some stuff that still gets me (mainly involving permanent bodily harm like the Lamborghini Tool Pull from Jackass 3D).

  • by 93 Escort Wagon (326346) on Tuesday August 21, 2012 @03:42PM (#41073387)

    In the end, he needed therapy, and since he was a contractor, he was let go instead of being hired as a full time employee.

    Since Google doesn't do bad things, it was obviously his fault.

  • Although I could understand if he had to read the new Digg.

  • by ctime (755868) on Tuesday August 21, 2012 @03:46PM (#41073461)
    I worked for a very large company and analysed data from network packet capture devices that would sift through data and find interesting items. It was quite a head job after awhile. So many people doing dumb things at work and getting caught. Reasonable seeming people looking at fucked up porn (men and women coworkers), people hooking up with random strangers in public restrooms (facilitating this online on their work computers, it happens alot), people having groupsex and viewing the photos at work (via web email), total perverts preying on teenagers (stockholm syndrome in full effect), really anything wrenched or nasty you hear about in the news is like the tip of the iceberg when given a large enough sample size of the general able populous. It may have tweaked my view of people in retrospect, basically it was a really long course in human psychology. I wouldn't ever do that shit again, or anything close to it, but I have respect for people who do.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by elucido (870205)

      I worked for a very large company and analysed data from network packet capture devices that would sift through data and find interesting items. It was quite a head job after awhile. So many people doing dumb things at work and getting caught. Reasonable seeming people looking at fucked up porn (men and women coworkers), people hooking up with random strangers in public restrooms (facilitating this online on their work computers, it happens alot), people having groupsex and viewing the photos at work (via web email), total perverts preying on teenagers (stockholm syndrome in full effect), really anything wrenched or nasty you hear about in the news is like the tip of the iceberg when given a large enough sample size of the general able populous. It may have tweaked my view of people in retrospect, basically it was a really long course in human psychology. I wouldn't ever do that shit again, or anything close to it, but I have respect for people who do.

      This is the problem. We want to hide ourselves from what humanity truly is but at the same time we want to act like we want to be open and accepting and to actually study humanity. You cannot ignore the fact that the vast majority of people on this planet if not all people on this planet have some really ugly behavior. If we are ever going to truly know ourselves we have to know not just the good side but the dark side as well. So the fear of the darkside actually hinders us in understanding our species.

      It'

    • by TheCarp (96830) <sjc AT carpanet DOT net> on Tuesday August 21, 2012 @06:13PM (#41075313) Homepage

      > It may have tweaked my view of people in retrospect, basically it was a really long course in human psychology.

      The fact that you think that, I view, as evidence that it may have tweaked your view of people.

      One of the most interesting drug policy debates that I ever had was with a toxicologist at a major hospital. I don't remember the meat of the debate so much as the ending, her view was just...so dark. Thats when it hit me.... her only experience in this area, is in seeing the worst of the worst. She doesn't see the guy who gets stoned and eats some munchies. She sees the guy who tried to kill himself. She sees the guy who injected himself with an unknown dose of an unknown white powder in a bag, produced by god knows who, and is now having a life threatening reaction.

      In short, the sample size that she has may be large, but, its all highly biased towards the absolute worst. A large portion of her professional career is dealing with people having serious issues beyond what even most drug users ever experience.

      It is like you are looking at information thats coming through a filter. Its like sitting behind a big red gel filter...all you ever get is red light. Everything is shades of red. Its a distillation process....and you are sitting in the condenser. You make the boiling pot bigger and bigger, fill it with more of the same.... and what happens to the output? It goes up. The more you put in to distill, the more distillate you get out.... even if the overall rate of it is the same as it was before.

      It doesn't say anything about the population as a whole except to help define the extremes in excruciating detail.... but the vast majority of "people" is not the extremes at all. Though, in many real ways, this is hardly unique. News is all rare events. Multiple murders, heinous crimes, anything that happens rarely for the size of our population. In fact, there is almost an inverse relationship to how many people are effected by something and how big of a story it can be.

  • I have to imagine that I am far from the only one that is disappointed in Google. Perhaps I expect too much, but they are one company I would think better of than to do pull something like that. I normally have a lot of respect for them in most things.

  • Not surprising. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 21, 2012 @03:48PM (#41073497)

    A few years back I worked at an early TV-over-the-internet company (this was pre-Netflix and the company didn't really catch on as it required set-top boxes).

    While my job was fairly mundane (mostly setting up new storage filers), I often had to go into the recording room: studios would send us a bunch of movies, TV shows, etc. on non-copy-protected DVDs and a bunch of staffers would spend all day ripping these DVDs to our storage system. Each staffer had to ensure that the ripping was going well by reviewing all the content on a bank of 24 (6 rows of 4 monitors) small monitors.

    About 10% of the content the company hosted (which was responsible for about 90% of its income) was porn. All pretty standard fare, really, particularly for the internet: the worst they had was some mild kink/S&M stuff -- all stuff you could buy at your neighborhood adult shop.

    On its own and viewed in moderation, not really a big deal...but the staffers got a little warped after a year in the recording room, particularly when they'd have several monitors of porn, a few monitors of kids movies (e.g. Disney stuff), a few of various movies, etc. It wasn't so much that porn was bad, it was just that the juxtaposition of porn and all the other stuff is a bit off-putting, or so they said. I believe it.

    I can't imagine the horrors seen by the content-review people on sites where media is uploaded by the public. Poor bastards.

  • by tangent3 (449222) on Tuesday August 21, 2012 @03:52PM (#41073553)

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/19/technology/19screen.html [nytimes.com]

    The 2-year old article I linked also explains that all Google content reviewers are on one-year contract because of the nature of the work and have access to counseling. From TFA it seems many of these reviewers got the false impression that they would be hired fulltime after completing the one year. Considering that Google seem to have pretty tough hiring process, I'm not surprised that very few of these reviewers get hired fulltime. Their managers must be filthy liars though.

    • by elucido (870205) on Tuesday August 21, 2012 @05:46PM (#41074997)

      http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/19/technology/19screen.html [nytimes.com]

      The 2-year old article I linked also explains that all Google content reviewers are on one-year contract because of the nature of the work and have access to counseling. From TFA it seems many of these reviewers got the false impression that they would be hired fulltime after completing the one year. Considering that Google seem to have pretty tough hiring process, I'm not surprised that very few of these reviewers get hired fulltime. Their managers must be filthy liars though.

      Not getting hired full time would probably piss me off more than anything else. If I had to sacrifice doing a job like that and got duped then I would be pissed.
      I guess that means I have empathy for the employees.

  • by fiannaFailMan (702447) on Tuesday August 21, 2012 @04:03PM (#41073699) Journal

    Spare a thought for all those poor people at Comedy Central who have to watch Fox News all day in search of comedy material for Jon Stewart.

  • by Jane Q. Public (1010737) on Tuesday August 21, 2012 @04:08PM (#41073771)
    It is appearing to me more and more, as I learn about the "tagging" practices and stories like this, as though Google is illegally employing people as "contractors" when they are really just low-level employees.

    This has been a long-time problem with large corporations. IBM was famously caught at doing that, and so was Microsoft.

    [irs.gov]The IRS has pretty clear guidelines about who is a "contractor" versus who is an "employee".

    It appears pretty clear to me that Google is illegally calling employees "contractors" so they can be denied perks and benefits. Just like IBM was, and just like Microsoft was.
    • Damn. That link got lost somehow.

      Here is the IRS link that was supposed to be included above. [irs.gov]
    • The IRS has pretty clear guidelines about who is a "contractor" versus who is an "employee".

      The IRS auditors are understaffed and overloaded. Google has deep enough pockets to hire enough attorneys and auditors to make them wish that they hadn't bothered. No, the IRS is going to spend their limited time and money on softer and easier targets that are more likely to pay up quickly, not a large and politically well connected company like Google.

  • The One Year Rule (Score:5, Interesting)

    by fm6 (162816) on Tuesday August 21, 2012 @04:13PM (#41073857) Homepage Journal

    The story makes it sound like Google only uses contractors for this job because they know nobody could hold it down for more than a year. But it sounds more like Google is misusing contractors the way I've seen happen at many high-tech companies. Bad managers don't have it together well enough to come up with a proper plan for expanding their departments, so whenever they have a new project that needs heads they don't have, they hire some contractors. These are always hired under a time limit, to avoid a repeat of the Vizcaino v Microsoft [findlaw.com] lawsuit.

    This ties in with one of my pet peeve with Google: they only seem to hire really brilliant people with great academic credentials who are never expected to bother themselves with scutwork. On the rare occasions when they realize that the scutwork can't be avoided (like manual crap filtering) they hire temps. Thus scutwork either doesn't get done or is done by people who aren't really a part of the employee community, and don't coordinate well with the real employees. That's why so many of their commercial products die on the vine, why so many of their products stay in beta mode for years, and why they have such abysmal documentation and tech support.

    They did two things right: they came up with the best search engine ever, and they figured out how to make it generate huge tons of money. This allows the rest of the company to be run wastefully and ineffectively. The shareholders don't care for this, but the voting stock is controlled by a small cadre of insiders.

  • by American AC in Paris (230456) on Tuesday August 21, 2012 @04:14PM (#41073867) Homepage

    This is why companies love independent contractors for this sort of job.

    There are plenty of studies that show us just how very little self-awareness and self-control the typical person actually has. Virtually everybody thinks they're made of stronger mettle than the other guy; virtually everybody thinks they can handle pretty much anything life could throw at them. Nobody wants to believe that they're the person who'd crack under pressure; nobody wants to believe that they're the person who would keep walking past a mugging. People tend to think that the flaws and limitations of the human race are things that apply primarily to other people.

    Successful companies know this; manipulating people is a key part of how a company becomes successful in the first place. Google knows that this kind of work will eventually destroy the mental health of the person performing the work. Why would they shoulder the responsibility for dealing with this fallout when they have a nigh limitless supply of perfectly unremarkable human beings who think they're strong enough to hack it?

    Note that I don't condone this behavior in the least; I find it reprehensible. But we live in a world where personal responsibility, level playing fields, and common sense are sacrosanct, and that's not likely to change anytime soon. Everybody thinks they're David; nobody ever considers the odds that they're one of the countless schmucks Goliath laid out before his ultimate fight.

  • by Penurious Penguin (2687307) on Tuesday August 21, 2012 @04:24PM (#41073985) Homepage Journal
    I've never watched vids for a living, but there are at least a dozen or so which have tainted my psyche to some extent. Some, I have to forget for my own health. But where does removing the meaninglessly wretched turn from "editing", to censorship of the meaningfully wretched? There are some truly horrible videos which have been available for years and left alone. Yet others which hardly compare are often removed. One particular video that is repeatedly removed is one of alleged US soldiers beating a sheep to death with a baseball bat [liveleak.com]. But as horrible as it is, it scarcely compares to hundreds of others which are not censored. Two pretty disturbing examples I can immediately think of are these:

    Man eaten alive by lions in front of family [youtube.com] - yeah, WTF?

    Guy has arm ripped off by crocodile [youtube.com] - ugly, but understandably uncensored

    Not that you'd want to for the sake of viewing something repugnant, but keywords "Syria Violence" could lead very quickly to an appointment with a therapist. For example: Bodies of postal workers thrown from rooftops [youtube.com] -- and that is very mild compared to others, especially from Libya. ~ Those are the ones I must forget. As horrible as they are, I strongly believe they should not be censored, and many haven't been. Real events, however horrible, unless to protect privacy, should be left transparent. I admire the function implemented by Google which allows vids to be flagged as +18 Only, but I have also seen this option abused, misused, and sometimes 100% erroneously enforced. But at least it makes viewing certain content voluntary and comes with a disclaimer. That's fine. Censorship is not.

    I can imagine viewing such things with any consistency could easily affect one's mental health, or even ruin someone's life. I am sure there are also many who could view such things over breakfast, lunch and dinner and carry on as normal. Certainly censoring bird song [slashdot.org] isn't difficult though, but I guess that's what AI is for.

    What I'd really like see is a more thorough account of the real criterion for censorship at the Chocolate Factory. I've seen many examples of Google censorship which anything but fit the declared purpose. And then sometimes I am left completely surprised.
  • by minstrelmike (1602771) on Tuesday August 21, 2012 @04:32PM (#41074105)
    I remember reading a similar story years ago from Yahoo emps. They hired older women. The best quote was from a lady who said the worst part of the job wasn't the pictures; it was the atrocious spelling.
  • by Joe_Dragon (2206452) on Tuesday August 21, 2012 @05:07PM (#41074569)

    This is why Tech needs unions so we don't have this contractor abuse as least obamacare gives them health care.

  • by Todd Knarr (15451) on Tuesday August 21, 2012 @05:14PM (#41074649) Homepage

    One word: OSHA. Much as Google may not like it, they're not exempt from workplace health and safety regulations. If those truly are the working conditions, the contractors need to have a good sit-down with one of the local OSHA inspectors complete with show-and-tell. Note: being a contractor doesn't change things, the regulations apply to the workplace and not just the employees.

  • by SternisheFan (2529412) on Tuesday August 21, 2012 @07:08PM (#41075821)
    I just found this website accidentally. It discusses the possibility and ramifications of erasing "bad" memories ... http://bigthink.com/dangerous-ideas/3-erase-traumatic-memories-and-achieve-your-own-eternal-sunshine [bigthink.com]
  • by YrWrstNtmr (564987) on Tuesday August 21, 2012 @07:50PM (#41076191)
    And this is why it makes me laugh when people say: "I'd never filter my kids internet access.", or "schools and libraries should be unfiltered"
    Some people are more sick than you can imagine. You don't want to expose your kids to to the worst of humanity.
  • by ffflala (793437) on Tuesday August 21, 2012 @08:25PM (#41076497)
    The generally upmodded consensus here seems to be that any healthy human being will eventually be psychologically damaged after enough exposure to the kinds of images described. I'm puzzled by the perspective, because it seems like similar claims made about exposure to other kinds of images would be discounted or even ridiculed.

    But what about long-term exposure to perfectly legal images of violence? What about legal adult porn that is, by design, intentionally degrading to one or more of the actors in it? What about very detailed, explicit, gore and violence in video games?

    I don't understand how or where one draws the line, if you think that there's some sort of boundary between the kinds of images that will affect your mental health and those that are perfectly benign. The generally supported reactions here seem to be "I know it when I see it, and boy is that stuff dangerous, at least over the long term." What's the difference between that position, and that of Jack Johnson or some puritanical-antiporn crusader?

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