Many people surf the internet every day but give little thought to the fact that people are continually uploading graphic content to the web, including videos of torture and violence, animal cruelty, footage of terrible accidents, and child pornography. There are people that are employed to specifically review content and deem it appropriate or inappropriate, and remove inappropriate content, reporting it to the appropriate authorities as in the case of child exploitation. In some cases, it can be a fine line between what is inappropriate and what is graphic but newsworthy and should be available to the public. Individuals are employed to make these decisions every day.
Now two former Microsoft employees are suing because they claim they have developed Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) from viewing graphic content over prolonged periods, according to Mashable. Both men are suing Microsoft for damages, alleging disability discrimination, negligence, and violation of the Consumer Protection Act.
The two men, Greg Blauert and Henry Soto, say that they were required to view graphic videos and child pornography for long periods to remove it to keep internet sites safe. Over time, they said, they became stressed and disturbed by the nature of the work and asked their supervisors for help in dealing with the mental trauma that watching such footage had caused. However, the men say they were offered no type of counseling or employee assistance, but rather told to “limit exposure to depictions, take more walks and smoke breaks, and redirection of thoughts by playing video games.”
Microsoft does provide mental health care to members of the Digital Crimes Unit but does not extend the same health care to members of the Online Safety Team, where Blauert and Soto worked. Both men applied for workers compensation benefits and were denied, according to the lawsuit against Microsoft filed in court on December 30.
Microsoft denies the allegations made by Blauert and Soto, although they do not directly comment on their individual suits.
“Microsoft applies industry-leading, cutting-edge technology to help detect and classify illegal images of child abuse and exploitation that are shared by users on Microsoft Services. Once verified by a specially trained employee, the company removes the image, reports it to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, and bans the users who shared the images from our services. We have put in place robust wellness programs to ensure the employees who handle this material have the resources and support they need.”
The men claim that they suffer from debilitating mental and physical symptoms that have affected their ability to work, their family relationships, and contributed to the decline of their quality of life.
Henry Soto says he never wanted to work for that particular department, but had moved to Washington to work for Microsoft and was “involuntarily transferred” to the Online Safety Team within a matter of months, where his suit claims he was exposed to disturbing and graphic footage nonstop.
“…horrible brutality, murder, indescribable sexual assaults, videos of humans dying and, in general, videos and photographs designed to entertain the most twisted and sick-minded people in the world…Many people simply cannot imagine what Mr. Soto had to view on a daily basis as most people do not understand how horrible and inhumane the worst people in the world can be…He suffered from an internal video screen in his head and could see disturbing images, he suffered from irritability, increased startle, anticipatory anxiety, and was easily distractible.”
Both men are suing for discrimination, lost wages, and to have Microsoft change their policies regarding mental health care for those that work in the Online Safety Team Department. The monetary figure they are seeking is to be announced in court.
[Featured Image by David Ramos/Getty Images]