The Internet's Toxic Waste Dump

BY NOW MOST of us know that when we use the internet, we are giving up privacy and exposing ourselves to potential surveillance and fraud. But we probably didn’t know until recently that in poor and distant lands, souls are being stained and scarred for the sake of our internet browsing experience.

There’s an old saying that nobody really wants to know the details of making sausage or passing legislation. Now there’s an update: You really don’t want to know how—in a world peopled by thousands of internet-capable sickos, murderers, perverts, and fanatics—your social media feeds remain so remarkably free of beheadings, snuff videos, and child porn.

Like me, if you ever thought about that, you perhaps assumed that some miraculous algorithm was automatically filtering all the bad stuff. Well, think again.

In the early days of the internet, porn sites occasionally popped up in the course of ordinary, innocent internet use. But search engine filters and various parental control programs seem, to my experience, to have made that a thing of the past. Today, every evil and dehumanizing image and act under the sun is still out there somewhere on the internet, and we are all much more connected to one another than ever before—yet, for the most part, you have to go looking for the dark side.

But keeping your internet experience relatively clean doesn’t happen by magic. In an article posted on Wired.com on Oct. 23, 2014, Adrian Chen reports that more than 100,000 human beings are employed in the business of internet “content moderation”—viewing and deleting offensive material that users have attempted to post to social networks. That’s twice as many as the total number of employees at Google and 14 times the number at Facebook.

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