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Ex-Microsoft Online Moderators Forced To Watch Child Porn Sue Company For Failing To Treat Their PTSD

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Two former Microsoft online moderators are suing the company for failing to offer adequate psychological support to help them deal with the gruesome content they had to watch.

The two ex-Microsoft employees had to monitor child pornography and other criminal material and claim the job gave them post-traumatic stress disorder.

Microsoft reportedly did nothing to treat their PTSD so the former employees haunted by their past online moderator job are now suing the company, as the Daily Beast first reported.

Monitoring Violent Material Caused PTSD

The two former Microsoft employees, Greg Blauert and Henry Soto, were part of the company's Online Safety Team and were responsible for monitoring material flagged as potentially illegal.

Microsoft's Online Safety Team monitors material flagged either by algorithms or by users, aiming to confirm that the material is illegal before giving it to law enforcement.

According to the lawsuit, Soto had to watch "horrible brutality, murder, indescribable sexual assaults" and other types of content "designed to entertain the most twisted and sick-minded people in the world" as part of the job.

Blauert, meanwhile, was in charge of monitoring "thousands of images of child pornography, adult pornography and bestiality that graphically depicted the violence and depravity of the perpetrators."

Involuntarily Assigned To Microsoft's Online Safety Team

The complaint [PDF] points out that Soto did not seek to assume that job. He was simply assigned to the online safety team and forced to stay in place for one and a half years. He was involuntarily transferred back in 2008 and Microsoft's policy prevented him from requesting a transfer sooner than 18 months after being assigned to the team. At that time, the team was newly assembled and Soto had limited knowledge of what the position would entail.

According to the filing, Soto did not understand how involved he would have to be in a number of areas, such as assisting law enforcement in operations to crack down on crime rings, the triad, the mob and other violent groups, reviewing images and videos containing horrible brutality, murder, sexual assault and other gruesome content.

Neither Soto nor Blauert received any warning about the heavy toll the job would take, although Microsoft was aware of the psychological implications.

"Plaintiffs Henry Soto and Greg Blauert were not warned about the likely dangerous impact of reviewing the depictions nor were they warned they may become so concerned with the welfare of the children, they would not appreciate the harm the toxic images would cause them and their families," adds the complaint.

Microsoft's Solution: 'Walks And Smoking Breaks'

It seems that rather than providing its safety team with assistance from trained therapists, Microsoft implemented a "Wellness Program" that recommended "walks and smoking breaks" for employees who were disturbed by the content they had to monitor. The men say there were also advised to play video games to clear their mind and stop thinking about the gruesome images they saw.

Both Soto and Blauert say the job caused them "vicarious trauma" and symptoms linked to PTSD, including anxiety, nightmares and hallucinations. The Wellness Program Microsoft created after they complained of the symptoms was not enough and the therapist assigned to the program was not qualified to treat their problems.

Microsoft Disagrees

Contacted by The Guardian, a company spokesperson said that Microsoft "disagrees" with the claims of its former employees. The company added that it's committed to its responsibility to report and remove any content depicting child abuse and other illegal content shared on its services. At the same time, Microsoft said it's not cutting corners when it comes to the health of its employees who have to handle such work.

The spokesperson added that Microsoft reduces the "realism of the imagery" seen by employees by using special technology, and it limits the time workers spend reviewing such content.

The lawsuit seeks damages for Soto and Blauert and recommends that Microsoft change its policies and practices to protect the health and resilience of other employees. Recommendations include regular psychological consultations, more time off, as well as a wellness program for the employees' spouses.

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