Apparently, when employees of Microsoft’s Online Safety Team complained that they had seen too much morbid and disturbing content on the internet, the tech giant simply told them to take more smoke breaks according to a lawsuit filed against the company.
According to a report from The Daily Beast, the Microsoft Online Safety Team has almost “God-like” status and were able to “literally view any customer’s communications at any time.” In particular, they were tasked with screening Microsoft’s users’ communications for evidence of child pornography and other crimes.
Upon finding any such evidence they were then to take certain steps which are detailed in an email from a Microsoft spokesperson:
“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.”
But it seems the “wellness programs” at Microsoft aren’t as robust as we are led to believe. Henry Soto and Greg Blauert both claim to have suffered significant psychological injuries.
While necessary work, not just anyone is mentally capable of handling what Soto and Blauert endured. The lawsuit filed says Soto saw “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 had trouble with sleep disturbance, nightmares,” the suit alleges. “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.”
After seeing a video of the abuse and murder of a child Soto says he also started having auditory hallucinations.
Now Microsoft has another team that also reports online crimes called the Digital Crimes Unit. That team enjoys a comprehensive mental health care package that was not extended to Soto and Blauert’s team.
Instead, they got a counselor. Which is better than nothing but when dealing with this kind of trauma a psychiatrist is more along the lines of what you need. The counselor, part of the robust “wellness program”, began dishing out a diagnosis of “compassion trauma”. However, the suit alleges the counselor “lacked sufficient knowledge and training regarding vicarious trauma or PTSD and lacked the authority to take employees off content or rotate them entirely out of the department.”
Blauert suffered a similar fate after being made to look through “thousands of images of child pornography, adult pornography, and bestiality that graphically depicted the violence and depravity of the perpetrators.”
When he or a co-worker broke down at work they were simply told to leave early as part of the companies “wellness program”.
Blauert began having nightmares and experiencing intrusive mental images.
Both men were placed on medical leave after years of work after finally being diagnosed with PTSD. Upon applying for worker’s compensation both men were summarily denied and received letters stating “the worker’s condition is not an occupational disease.”