Former Microsoft Employees ‘Suffering From PTSD’ Are Suing Company

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Two former Microsoft employees are suing the company after alleging that the company failed to prepare them for the potential psychological effects of their jobs.

The lawsuit asserts that the two men—Henry Soto and Greg Blauert—suffer from Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) after viewing disturbing images as part of Microsoft’s Online Safety Team.

The team is responsible for sending any illegal images flagged by automated software to the U.S. National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Microsoft is legally obligated to inform authorities of child abuse or exploitation.

After images are reported or “spotted” by automated software, a human is required to view the material before sending it to the authorities, according to a Microsoft spokesperson.

Employees tasked with viewing this material are only required to do so for a short period of time and are kept in a “different office” than other staff, said the company.

Microsoft told the BBC that they did in fact, offer “industry-leading support” to its staff and disputed the claims that it failed to protect its employees.

“Microsoft takes seriously its responsibility to remove and report imagery of child sexual exploitation and abuse being shared on its services, as well as the health and resiliency of the employees who do this important work,” the company said, according to the BBC.

The company said that it is continuing to work on protecting the internet while minimizing the impact on its employees.

Microsoft claimed that it makes efforts to reduce the “realism” of flagged images. Automated software blurs the images, lowers their resolution, makes them black and white, and separates audio from video files. Images are not seen in full size but as thumbnails.

Still, the two men said in papers filed on December 30 of last year that the company did not sufficiently warn or prepare them for how disturbing the material would be.

While the lawsuit says that the men’s work was “instrumental” in saving children, it came at a significant psychological cost. Blauert’s suffering is alleged to have contributed to a mental breakdown in 2013. He claims that after voicing concerns to the company, he was told to “smoke,” “go for walk” or “play video games” to distract himself.

Soto said that he was required to view “many thousands of photographs and videos of the most horrible, inhumane and disgusting content one can imagine,” according to legal documents. He was praised for having “courage” in an internal employee review amid “panic attacks, disassociation, depression, visual hallucinations.”

According to court papers, Soto even suffered from an inability to be near young children—even his own son. Being around children would remind him of “horribly violent acts against children that he had witnessed.”

In 2014, Soto stated that he requested a transfer out of the team when Microsoft told him that he would have to apply for a new job “just like any other employee.” He was eventually relocated within the safety team.

“If an employee no longer wishes to do this work, he or she will be assigned other responsibilities,” the company said on the subject.

In order to prevent what is called “compassion fatigue” in members of the Online Safety Team, Microsoft automatically places these employees in mandatory monthly one-on-one sessions with a counselor.

In addition to reducing the “realism” of the content, Microsoft also states that “Employees [who do this work] are limited in how long they may do this work per day and must go to a separate, dedicated office to do it; they can’t do this work at home or on personal equipment.”

While Microsoft says that it is taking steps to improve the process in order to minimize the number of people exposed to the disturbing material, it confirmed to the BBC that it plans to oppose the lawsuit.

About Jessica Paek

Freelance writer and proud pet mom to two dogs and a cat. Self-proclaimed Pinterest curator and D.I.Y. queen. My research interests include power hierarchies and historical linguistics.

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