Wired Magazine recently featured an article (NSFW) about the people who screen Facebook and remove the terrible videos of sex, violence, gore, animal cruelty, and child abuse. This type of content moderation is depicted as taking a significant toll on the people who have to view and remove the videos so that grandma (and especially grandchild) don’t see them.
In Manila, I meet Denise (not her real name), a psychologist who consults for two content-moderation firms in the Philippines. “It’s like PTSD,” she tells me as we sit in her office above one of the city’s perpetually snarled freeways. “There is a memory trace in their mind.”…But even with the best counseling, staring into the heart of human darkness exacts a toll. Workers quit because they feel desensitized by the hours of pornography they watch each day and no longer want to be intimate with their spouses. Others report a supercharged sex drive. “How would you feel watching pornography for eight hours a day, every day?” Denise says. “How long can you take that?”…“From the moment you see the first image, you will change for good.”
With content moderation jobs reaching into the high percentages of jobs in the tech sector, who will watch out for the watchers? How can we offer spiritual care for those in the front lines of human decency?
The Christian Watchers
Like the daily life of content moderators, trauma is not a single event. I try to not use the term “trauma victim”* because “trauma survivor” seems more accurate. The re-traumatization of survivors kept them from truly healing from the incident that sparked their condition. Be it from the Holocaust or a Katrina flood or Gulf War Syndrome or everyday bullying, the “triggers” that cause a survivor to relive the incident create a survivor mentality. Like the content moderators above, the triggers become commonplace in some professions.
This is important to consider because the Christian church often has similar roles to the content moderators above: people who have daily engagement with the rough edges of humanity in the name of the Church.
- I think of my friend who is the first contact for many young people online and must deal with the ridiculous tweets tearing down other Christians and accusatory comments that the UMC must hate gay people. How does each email or ping of a tweet feel?
- I think of Christian ministers–lay and clergy–who work with those behind bars or on death row, hearing stories and seeing some of the most indecent segments of humanity face-to-face, alongside with those who are not. How do they view each passerby on the sidewalk?
- I think of pastors and clergy who console the family of a deceased alcoholic, or pedophile, or domestic abuser and are expected to officiate a worship service about the deceased while their survivors are still bleeding into the pews. How do they do the next funeral? And the next one?
- I think of the missionaries sent long-term to far-removed lands or to close-by areas of need. How do they answer their door or serve in the field each day?
- I think of activists who seek to change the church’s social stances from the inside and clash with the institutional powers. How do they view each “official” denominational missive or email?
- I think your life of service, dear reader, as you engage in areas that are unknown to me and probably those closest to you. Those places and people who affect you for life, and you feel alone in your engagement with them. How do you do it?
How do we care for the people who are on the rough edges of Christianity? How do we even identify the ones who are running ragged but aren’t visibly so? How do we care for the survivors and help them not “be healed” or “get over it” but find a way to truly live amidst a world of triggers?
Why do we do it?
Furthermore, why does the Church continue to engage the worst parts of humanity: the most vicious online trolls who call for people’s suicides or rape, the serial killers behind bars, and the domestic abusers in the pews? Why do we have the Christian Watchers in the first place?
For one answer, we look to a comic book movie and how it engages with a biblical concept.
There’s a time-travel element to the 2014 film X-Men: Days of Future Past. [SPOILER ALERT] We travel back in time to find that a very young 1970s Professor Charles Xavier has lost too many teachers to Vietnam and is having trouble dealing with the events of the prequel X-Men First Class. The pain of loss causes Xavier to take drugs to diminish his mutant abilities and he has stepped back from helping others in the world.
Near the climax of the movie, the young Charles Xavier is able to have a conversation with his future self. His future self says these words:
It’s not their pain you’re afraid of. It’s yours, Charles. And as frightening as it can be, that pain will make you stronger. If you allow yourself to feel it, embrace it, it will make you more powerful than you ever imagined. It’s the greatest gift we have: to bear their pain without breaking. And it comes from the most human part of us: hope.
Charles, we need you to hope again.
We engage the powers and come face to face with the indecent because we hope.
- We hope for something more.
- We hope for a better world for our neighbors’ children.
- We hope for a better church for our children.
- We hope we are the generation that eradicates racism and sexism from the dominant culture.
- We hope we are the people that solve the persistent problem spots of the world’s conflicts.
- We hope to hold the eggshell fragments long enough for the slow work of God to put it all back together.
The Watchers take on the pain as they seek the middle ground between redemptive suffering and aloof detachment. This is the place where Christ resides, taking on the world’s pain. However, unlike a truly kenotic (self-emptying) Christ, the Watchers do not completely self-empty. Thus, all are called to either support these people by serving alongside them, or by supporting them with resources before, during, and especially after their term of service.
What resources do you know of that:
- Might offer a word of hope to people in secular content moderation jobs?
- Might offer a word of hope to people in ministry roles that would have similar trauma triggers and experiences?
Thanks for sharing and sound off in the comments!* of course, persons who have gone through trauma can refer to themselves however they wish. For general consumption only, I try to use the “survivor” term but am respectful to how people self-identify.