It's a dirty job--in every sense of the word--but somebody's gotta do it.
In order for
services that filter the Internet to work, some employee has to rake
through all that muck on the Web, scouting out every last topless photo
and naughty word. Here at Internet Underground, preoccupied
with putting together our "Sex issue," we found ourselves wondering:
What kind of a job would that be? What would it pay? And what would it
do to any sane person?
Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to scour the Net for filth...As a full-time job.
Well, it turns out that the job's called "Internet Content Supervisor."
The pay? $7 per hour.
The service that employs these smut blockers is N2H2, an ISP in
Seattle which bills itself as "the leader in Internet filters." N2H2 runs by
the philosophy that subscribing to a blocked Internet service should be
an option for people who want it. Their
children's service, Bess, is a "safe" launching point for
youngsters to explore the Net without stumbling across porn or hate
speech. Their service for businesses, Birddog, restricts workers from
accessing certain categories of sites that their employer deems
inappropriate. Far from judgmental, N2H2 also sells unrestricted access
to the Net. Basically, they'll
provide you with any level of freedom that
N2H2's offices in Seattle employ several blockers, most of whom
work the job part-time in order to pursue other things. Many of the
employees are struggling filmmakers; the joke around the office is that
the whole bizarre experience is great script fodder. For this month's
FAQ, IU conducted an interview with an N2H2 employee, who
preferred that his name not be used in the piece.
IU: So what's the nitty-gritty of your job?
How do you go about it?
It's gotten pretty much cut-and-dried these days. They basically have a
program with every dirty word they can imagine. It goes through all the
search programs and makes a list of every page that registers those
IU: Then you personally go check out
anything that's suspect?
Yeah, they have a whole crew of people that just sit there and go
through the pages. To find out whether or not it has violence, gore, sex,
hate speech, illegal stuff like hacking information, anything drug-related,
stuff you wouldn't want kids to see.
IU: What about a site that presents medical information, perhaps on
AIDS or reproduction?
It all depends on how graphic it is. It's hard to say without knowing the
language. Does the site cross the line between being informative and
being the kind of thing that little kids in junior high are going to be
crowded around at the library computer?It's subjective.
IU: What about political activism?
As long as it isn't hate-related, then it's OK. We had a big moral debate
one day because I ran into a historical revisionism page. Many of us
thought that was worse than pornography. But it's really sketchy. They're
not explicitly advocating genocide--they're saying, "The Holocaust was a
myth, we'll show you how the photos were doctored, here are the lies in
what the so-called survivors said, and we can prove that it never
IU: So you let that stay?
Well, what tends to happen with most of those is that you look around
long enough and somewhere there's something that crosses the
boundary between history and saying, "These people have got to be out
of the country."That would cause us to block.
IU: Do you have strict written guidelines about what to block?
Not really...It's kind of understood after
working there awhile and seeing the lists of objectionable words. But it's
kind of weird, because after working there a couple of months,
somebody will mention they're seeing this site and they don't know we're
supposed to be blocking it. It still needs some organization. For
instance, there are a lot of violent video games that none of us play. I've
never seen the game Quake, but I guess people get blown away in it or
something. So, they block that, for the gore. And for a while, none of us
knew! Someone had been working there for a couple of months, and
commented that it was irritating that these pages kept coming up. And
we said, "Oh, that's because you're supposed to be getting rid of them."
The basics of the job is just that you look through these things and
decide whether to let them go or not. At the bottom of the page, it gives
you a menu that lets you rate it, and you click "good" or "bad."
IU: Do you block a site as soon as
you see an age verification page, or do
you look at the page?
I tend to block as soon as I get to a warning page. There are a lot of
times that you see a page and it's obvious what's going to come up
next. But what surprises you, more often, is when you find just a bunch
of numerals and they all say .gif. You have no idea what you're going to
click on, but you have to at least
click on something to find out what it's a
I've gotten to the point where I don't particularly want to see very
much. And I had just kind of assumed that most of the other adults I
was working with would feel the same way. But one of the women I
work with was complaining that there wasn't really very much porn for
women out there, that she had been hoping to find more of interest to
her. Which really shocked me.
In a way, it can be interesting, but--I don't know. I think it can mess
people up. So I try to see as little of it as possible, although it's
inevitable that you're going to run into some.
IU: So it's having an effect on you?
It's starting to. I think that's part of why I've been in a solemn mood all
week. Finally, my boss said yesterday, "If you want to take some time
off, you can," and I was just about to ask. So I took off this afternoon.
I've just been nasty all week, I've been in this horrible mood, but ever
since I left work this afternoon, I felt really good.
It's such a repetitive job. You just sit there for four hours or eight
hours or however long. Even if it's not porn, it's looking through all these
things and saying, "OK, is the word 'fuck' here; can I let this go, or do I
have to find something vile to get rid of this," and it's really repetitive. I
went to a bookstore after that, and I was looking for a book, and I was
kind of zoning out. I couldn't remember what book I was looking for
when I realized I was just looking through shelves for dirty words on the
covers of books! And I thought, "You can't block this, this is real life. Get
I remember thinking to myself when I got the job: "If this becomes
something that I can't get away from when I'm not at work, I have to
quit." And I think I'm getting to that point now.
IU: Is it warping your personal life?
I think it is. Porn is one of those things that is kind of dangerous. You
can compare it to alcohol or drugs: I think a small amount of it, used
right, for some people, is OK. But it's really easy to get addicted to it,
and it's really easy to let it control the way you see things.
IU: I would think it would be kind
It's weird; everybody has their different ways of dealing with it. Some of
the people deal with it way differently than I do, and our methods clash.
Some people are still really into it; as soon as something comes up that
they think is really sexy, they say heyyyy and they'll call a few other guys
over and they'll all have fun looking. And some people just try to joke
about it, saying, "What a great photographer," talking about the artistic
merits of someone with a fish inserted somewhere.
IU: Did you just say what I thought you said?
Yeah. (laughs) That's out there. I don't remember the URL, but I could
probably get it for you.
IU: No, thanks, I don't really want it.
I understand. That's the other thing about the job--it can give you an
extremely low opinion of humanity. Because there's not an act that
hasn't been either photographed or described. There are things on dogs,
children, horses, industrial machines--anything your imagination could
possibly stray to. After a while, it does get really disgusting. It started
turning my stomach, which I'm somewhat happy about, because I know
at least it still bothers me.
IU: At least you know you're not numb.
There are such graphic images. There are a lot of porn anime sites, and
there was one place where I clicked on the next window, and there was
this stunning--shocking--picture there. I couldn't get it out of my head
for about a day. It was like a bad song, where no matter what you do
there's this thing going through your head. Whenever I was bored, this
picture would come back to me. And I was thinking that if I were
involved with somebody, it would be so incredibly disgusting to be with
them sexually, and in the back of your mind have something like that
start popping up.
IU: You don't think you could keep
this job and be in a relationship?
I was actually dating someone when I started working here. It didn't last,
but at the time I was still new enough at it that I could kind of divorce
myself from it. But after all this time at the job, it becomes difficult to
forget what you've seen. There are definitely a lot of unpleasant things I
really would rather not have witnessed.
In fact, relating electronically has gotten really gross to me. E-mailing,
I don't mind, because I know the person on the other end. But getting
to know someone over the computer has lost all its romance for me.
it comes to research, I've had a hard time
finding anything really valid or interesting.
IU: What do people think of the
service you provide?
A lot of people jump on it, because the moment you tell them what you
do, they assume it's censorship. Which in a way it is, but people pay
money so they don't have to look at this stuff. A lot of people get upset
that it's censored in any way. They think that the people who are
subscribing don't know what they're missing.
IU: To me, it just seems like another option. And I'm always in
favor of more options.
Yeah, and you can always say it's helping
create jobs. It's not just destroying the porn industry. It's saying the porn
industry is helping other people. Like me.
IU: What's your official job title?
Um, I forget. Oh yeah, it's "Internet Content Supervisor."
IU: OK, but how would you describe it if you met somebody at
At this point, I'd probably just say I worked in data entry. (laughs)