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Addressing the Elephant in the Room: Mental Health in Moderation

According to a study, approximately 4.66 billion are active internet users worldwide. That’s equivalent to 59.5% of the global population. Indeed, the Internet has grown rapidly over the years, and with its full range of services, billions of users have become attracted to it.

It has helped us connect and engage with several people worldwide, access all kinds of information, and pave the way for fellow users to showcase their content, whether it be in the form of music, film, photography, or literature. 

However, much like any other mind blowing innovation, the Internet is quite massive, and not all parts of it honor the safety of all users.

Apart from the convenience that it brings, some online platforms have also become the breeding ground for illegal activities including sexual abuse and exploitation of women, teens, and children, promoting terrorism and extremist propaganda, racism, human trafficking, hate speech and encouraging extreme violence.

In response, the role of content moderators was created to help counter the toxicity brought by such disturbing and inappropriate content.

A content moderator’s job is to filter fraudulent and inappropriate content so that users can have a safe online experience. However, the sensitive nature of their job often leaves moderators overexposed to thousands of harmful content online. You can imagine how traumatic it can be for someone to experience such extremely unsavory content every single day of their life.

How do businesses and moderators cope with these challenges considering their kind of job? Find out in this article the psychological and emotional distress experienced by the moderators as a result of the unique and delicate nature of their work.

Content Moderators𑁋Who Are They?

A content moderator’s primary job is to review and analyze all content you can see on social media platforms, online community forums, or any other platform on the Internet. They are responsible for screening user-generated content and ensuring that people share or post content that is scam-free, suitable for the community and does not include nor promote any type of illegal activity.

Content moderators use a set of predetermined rules and guidelines to keep the moderation process on track and ensure they implement the right course of action for any violation.

The different types of user-generated content that moderators review include:

  • Social media posts (in the form of comments, videos, images, hashtags, and text)
  • Instagram stories
  • YouTube videos
  • Forum posts
  • Product or service reviews
  • Shared or linked articles on social media
  • Blog comments

The challenging role of content moderators are as follows:

  • Protect users from inappropriate content and online harassment
  • Use software such as profanity filters to monitor text and image-based content
  • Employ human judgment to decipher intent and hidden messages behind each user post
  • Countercheck if a users’ post meets the guidelines of the platform or community
  • Verify user profiles on social platforms and apps
  • Remove and/or ban content or users sharing offensive text, language, and spam comments.

The Psychological Well-Being of Content Moderators

Being a content moderator is not easy.

Their role entails coming across various content containing nudity, sex, and violence. Watching videos that depict abuse, self-harm, or fraudulent activity will surely cause a specific level of stress and discomfort that could lead to serious mental health issues on the part of content moderators. 

The repeated and prolonged exposure to disturbing texts, videos, and images can significantly impair the psychological well-being of human moderators.

There are long-lasting mental health problems moderators are facing today, following the consistent policing of user activities and posts across social networks.

These include, but are not limited to:

PTSD

In addition to the risk of continued exposure and the need to maintain a prescribed accuracy for acceptable work, moderation is notorious for heightening psychological discomfort. What is more concerning is that moderation can lead to posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), for some moderators.

Scola, a content moderator in California, alleges that unsafe work practices have led her to develop post-traumatic stress disorder after witnessing thousands of acts of extreme and graphic violence.

PTSD begins to develop for content moderators after reviewing numerous videos and images of violent extremism for a prolonged period. As a result of these visuals, their minds experience a level of trauma that’s strong enough to cause a breakdown in the midst of their job. In this situation, assistance from a counseling professional is crucial for their mental health.

Anxiety 

Anxiety is one of the mental health concerns that develop among content moderators. Seeing others be attacked or even murdered can make someone paranoid about their surroundings, thereby triggering social anxieties on individuals that were once comfortable in their daily lives. It can affect their lives throughout the period that they are working. They may feel scared, uneasy, and dreadful. As a result, they can shut themselves from the world because they think that someone is after them.

Depression

Depression can develop more serious issues such as depression. Moderators will begin withdrawing from their friends and colleagues, finding a way to keep to themselves, losing interest in their hobbies and the things they used to enjoy. They will also be constantly clouded by a feeling of worthlessness and decreased motivation.

Moderators may find themselves having trouble doing normal day-to-day activities and sometimes may feel as if life isn’t worth living. This may require long-term treatment that includes medication or therapy.

Content Moderators𑁋How Can Businesses Help Them Through Their Job

For businesses, content moderators are vital to protect their visitors and brands. 

Whether it’s videos submitted for advertisement, images on social media platforms, or comments and posts, the risk is always there. Having moderators will reduce the risk of seeing content that is considered upsetting, offensive, or detrimental to your online brand. Also, moderators will help you prevent bullies or trolls from taking advantage of your brand online. 

This is why businesses must acknowledge that the context of content moderation has shifted into extreme violence and inappropriate content at an alarming level. Yes, the need for moderators is critical. Since they provide protection from harmful content, the need to protect them should also be prioritized by the businesses that hire them.

In order to protect the industry and the safety of content moderators, we must be empathetic to their mental health. The content they are viewing daily is not the same as it was a decade ago. It is more extreme this time.

Several companies have recognized the need to address the mental health issues of content moderators. In fact, technology firms, such as Facebook, Tiktok, and Google have helped create the Technology Coalition, which aims to eliminate online child sexual exploitation and abuse. Also, the Employee Resilience Guidebook outlines the mental health and safety measures for employees that regularly witness unwanted materials such as child pornography and all types of distressing imagery.

In addition, there are more ways that businesses can help moderators take good care of their psychological well-being. 

Below are the three ways to incorporate wellness for content moderators:

Seize a culture of balance

Businesses and firms that offer content moderation services should ensure a healthy environment for their employees. They need to consider a multitude of factors that impact a content moderators’ life, including the amount of extremely graphic content they see every day, the time they spend watching extreme content, healthy communication with co-employees, and self-care.

While it’s important to get the job well done, businesses need to encourage healthy habits by providing wellness programs. Some employers have come up with ways to help moderators cope with trauma, including peer support programs, individual counseling, physical fitness programs, and an allotted amount of time for work. 

Build a responsive wellness model

To guarantee the mental well-being of moderators, it is crucial to create a responsive workflow, based on the magnitude and amount of work. This will help employees to work on multiple lines of business during any given day, with the necessary steps to deescalate when required.

If a moderator is dealing with low severity content, such as misinformation or fake news, this only requires weekly team meetings to discuss company initiatives, team sharing for group support, and voluntary programs like counseling sessions and mental wellness activities

If the content being checked is too extreme or severe, then businesses should reduce the daily production and increase mentoring. A mandatory preemptive program such as monthly counselor sessions and wellness assessments is a big help. As the severity of the content increases, the amount of content reviewed within a day must decrease to achieve a healthy and productive balance.

Supplement Operations with AI and digital tools

AI and machine learning are certainly the foremost dependable tools to assist with this unfathomably colossal task. It can throw fraudulent content to human moderators and dig out unhealthy material. Also, AI can be used for employees to focus more energy on their wellness and proactively shield moderators against stressful interactions.

While AI cannot solve the entire content moderation problem without a human, it still plays a vital role in content moderation. Well-trained AI moderation solutions use filters to screen inappropriate text, phrases, and images to help dig out trolls, bullies, and spammers.

If a moderator is viewing highly severe content, it’s essential for AI to leverage data analytics to ensure the next workload is less intense. AI enhances employee engagement through real-time feedback and coaching opportunities for successful mental health discussions.

Conclusion

Indeed, it is an overwhelming job. The fact remains, that no matter how well they are paid, being a content moderator can change you forever. Moderators may help to narrow down the situation online, but human moderators are no longer enough considering how drastically the scope of the digital community continues to grow and expand. It is easy for someone to say they need to “do something” with what’s happening online without thinking about the complexities involved.

That is why addressing the mental health of content moderators is critical, as they are among the most essential lines of defense for all users’ safety and sanity on the Internet.

Businesses can help moderators by providing social and mental support as well as implementing tools that will help them moderate content in a more convenient and faster way. Also, combined human-powered and automated systems play a big part in content moderation. With the help of human judgment, these software programs will help content moderators to highlight inappropriate content without overexposure.

But more than implementing programs and interventions designed to protect the mental well-being of moderators, the sensitive nature of their job is also a reminder that we should also be mindful of what we post or share online. As much as we’d hate to admit it, as fellow internet users, we have the choice to either be part of the problem or be an ally to these brave moderators and help them keep digital communities clean and secure.

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