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NOTE: This is a situation I've faced in a previous job, it doesn't relate to my current employment. I'm curious to know how people would handle this.

Part of my job involves reviewing video clips which people have sent in. We review these videos before putting them on the web for our subscribers.

As is normal for User-Generated-Content, we get sent in pornography. Each video has to be reviewed to make sure that it doesn't breach any laws. Even the "adult" videos have to be assessed.

All the employees in my team have signed a waiver saying they're OK with looking at adult videos - and they can stop at any time with no questions asked. HR and IT security have given the OK to my team to look at these videos.

Reviewers work on a queue system, so it's random whether they get an adult UGC video or not. They do not review content full time. Maybe up to an hour a day interspersed with their other tasks.

My problem is that other people in our workplace haven't signed such a waiver. We have an open plan office with fairly flexible seating. So it's quite common for people to wander around the office.

I've gotten some comments from various staff members like:

  • I saw Alice watching what looked like porn at her desk! Do you want me to report it?
  • I'm worried that Bob saw me reviewing some adult UGC! Do you think I should tell him what's going on?
  • Chuck has complained that he's being exposed to adult material when he's sat near one of our reviewers.
  • etc.

So - what should we do in order to stop this problem from escalating?

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12  
What about a privacy monitor ? –  Florian F. Jun 13 at 17:18
4  
@JoeStrazzere - the reviewing was a very small part of what a ~5,000 person campus did. Not very practical to educate absolutely every employee. –  Terence Eden Jun 13 at 21:26
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Those people who are reviewing material (especially if the material may be offensive) should probably work somewhere separate from those who don't... –  Doc Jun 15 at 4:53
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I remember working for a game development company when a friend of mine was working on kinect implementation. Everyone would come and pose funny gestures to see if the device got it. The boss decided to keep that person in a separate room to prevent distracting others. –  revani Jun 15 at 23:41
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@EvilWashingMachine According to the question the other people apparently don't know that this is an official job duty, so it looks like highly inappropriate slacking. –  Andrew Medico Jun 16 at 13:25

9 Answers 9

up vote 97 down vote accepted

It's a 5,000-person company, you say? You have the resources to do the right thing, and the deep pockets to make it extremely risky not to do the right thing.

You're doing a lot of things right. Checking with HR and IT Security is good. Asking your reviewers to agree formally to the possibility that they might see nasty stuff is better. Giving them the right to stop looking at any time is even better.

Providing some sort of Employee Assistance Plan if somebody's totally grossed out might be a good idea.

But, in a 5,000-person company there is absolutely no excuse for insisting that people in this job function sit in an open-plan office where random people from other departments can walk around and look at whatever screens they want. That's a huge risk. Somebody is going to attack the company for systematically maintaining an oppressive workplace.

I worked in a 30-person company in the USA that had to do this kind of nasty work. We had these reviewers sit in a separate room with a closed door.

Go to your HR department, NOW, and ask for their support. They need to support you because it's their job to maintain a safe and legal workplace. Then go to management and ask / tell them to set up a visually isolated workplace for these reviewers.

If you're in this situation and you don't act on this you will be sorry.

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6  
This is the most straightforward answer. I haven't been on this site long, but I constantly see good, to-the-point content from you. +1 –  user20914 Jun 14 at 1:02
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+1 I've worked in a large (1000+) office that's 100% open plan except for top level directors, where one small team of 10 or so needed privacy (for very different reasons). They moved that team to near a corner and fitted a simple low-cost partition wall around them. Easy. Where there's a will, there's a way. –  user568458 Jun 14 at 20:19
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And as its the UK I trust that HR and Legal have cleared this with the police in writing as some forms of porn are strict liability offences –  Pepone Jun 15 at 15:05
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@PeterRaeves I would put a sign up on the entrance to the separate area that explains in big letters that there may be offensive material and then explains in normal size text why. The separate area makes this feasible where an open plan with large numbers of employees does not. –  Brythan Jun 15 at 23:20
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@MartinSmith Well, if someone does hack the World Cup feed and streams child porn to millions of Britons, or say, emails child porn to all your MPs, then I'm sure there would be some discussions about changing the law. At present, however, child porn possession or viewing is most definitely is a strict liability offense in the UK (and other places, such as the US). The issue of accidental or unintended viewership is generally left to prosecutorial discretion and, accordingly not prosecuted, but there have been cases where prosecutors pursued a case against accidental viewers anyway. –  HopelessN00b Jun 16 at 9:45

We actually had a very similar case in a company that I worked for - in this case, they developed set-top boxes, and they tested new versions for compatibility of all types of pay-for hotel movie content... including adult videos.

In this case, they had a test lab. The test lab was a small room with a door that closed, and that was where ALL video content was tested. Workers knew and agreed to the content, and I believe they hung a sign showing something fairly bland - "authorized personnel only". If you were on the team, you were authorized. If you were not on the team, you had no business complaining about seeing inappropriate content in a room you weren't supposed to be in.

Managers around the building knew the deal and responded to any complaints.

I'd advocate for trying to change the office layout, simply because people watching videos all day (any videos!) is pretty distracting, even if they are using headphones.

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19  
Amazing how many problems can be solved by not forcing people to work in a fishbowl... –  Shog9 Jun 15 at 3:13

This seems like a management problem. As in management hasn't taken the extra steps needed to negate a possibly hostile situation.

These issues can extend beyond simple 'boobies' and into other issues like customer/patient information, trade secrets, financial reports, etc. Some things shouldn't be seen by everyone. Some things should be highly restricted.

Some simple solutions:

  • Privacy Hood: privacy hood
  • Polarized glasses enter image description here
  • Make everyone sign a waiver.
  • Restrict "Reviewers" to a designated area.
  • Restrict "waive-able" activities to certain areas.
  • Segregate Waved and non-waved employees.

I'm certain other solutions abound, but to not use some of the more easily implemented options available is asking for problems.

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1  
The polarized glasses one is great. Sign a waiver, get a pair of shades. –  Chris Lively Jun 13 at 21:16
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As a bonus, being able to look like a dementor while reviewing might convince more people to sign up! –  Brendan Long Jun 13 at 22:13
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+1 for polarized glasses, that's neat. –  user20914 Jun 14 at 0:59

Send a memo to everyone. Specify that those who are watching UGC -include in your memo the list of those who signed the waiver - are doing their job, which regretfully includes screening out porn so that illegal porn doesn't get to the subscribers. And that it is of vital importance to the business model that the illegal porn doesn't get to the subscribers and that there is no other way to make sure that it doesn't get to the subscribers.

Those who did not sign the waiver should not look at the screens. Having said that, look into segregating those who did not sign the waiver to one side of the open office layout. Look into getting a couple of movable Chinese screens and using them to split the open office layout in two.

Look into muscling those who did not sign the waiver into signing the waiver, or some form of agreement that specifies "I shall not look at other people's screens" as a mandatory alternative to signing the waiver. Caveat: many jurisdictions require employers to provide a workplace that is free of harassment including sexual harassment, so I am not sure that my last recommendation will pass legal muster. Consult HR/the firm's legal counsel.

Follow-up comment from @Pepone "would it be possible to segregate the pc used for vetting videos so that people move to this area when reviewing"

I think segregating the PC used for vetting videos makes sense for this situation. Rather than have several interviewers spend one hour each every day, we could assign a single reviewer at that segregated PC for a full day or half a day, and rotate among the reviewers.

Follow-up comment from @Chad "The op is an employee and may not have the ability to modify the work area."

Follow-up comment from @Pepone "well the employer does have the ability and should have done so to in the first place."

Follow-up comment from @Chad "That would seem to be the answer from my perspective"

OK, we have a consensus on segregating the PC.

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5  
Singling out those that review the adult material might make them uncomfortable with reviewing it. Additionally, forcing others to agree to sign the waver would make the "can get out with no questions asked" useless. Why does this answer have 4 upvotes? –  Raystafarian Jun 13 at 17:20
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@VietnhiPhuvan - that's the point: are you sure the employees that have waived, want their colleagues to be aware? Like raystafarian says, there's a privacy/confidentiality issue here –  kolossus Jun 14 at 13:12
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@kolossus What's all this hiding of secrets? If it were me, I couldn't care less if you read my name on the waiver list and you caught me watching the illegal porn. I just don't understand how some people's minds work. I'll be blunt: if you signed the waiver and you are terrified that somebody finds out that you signed the waiver, we'll act as if you didn't sign the waiver, and I am your manager, I'll tell you point-blank "don't bother reviewing the videos. Don't complicate my life!" –  Vietnhi Phuvanmail Jun 14 at 13:35

At the supermarket you usually have a light indicating if the register is open, in studios you have the on-air signs, so maybe you can implement something like that? The light would automatically go on when the computer is in "review" mode.

An extra room where you can review the videos without interference sounds too creepy. :p

Whatever you do, you should really get the people who work with you educated about the tasks. But this is the job of the management, it's not yours to "defend" yourself. Every employee should get a quick "we review videos to filter out porn, don't make it more uncomfortable for the reviewers than it already has to be".

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2  
And from what I've heard, it can be extremely uncomfortable. Classic "dirty job but someone has to do it". –  keshlam Jun 13 at 21:36
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@keshlam I have a friend who has to review user-submitted content, and for the site he does it for, adult content cannot make it through. He says it is extremely uncomfortable. He doesn't like porn in the first place, but the professional setting intensifies the discomfort. Even some of the others who are completely fine with porn outside the office say it's really awkward in-office. –  JMcAfreak Jun 13 at 21:54

So - what should we do in order to stop this problem from escalating?

This sounds like a solution for environmental signage, education & co-worker awareness.

If this is an open office plan, is there some way that designated staffers could have some visual cute on their desks or cubicles that indicates, “Hey, these people do content review work… Be cool…”

Such as a gold star or some indicia on their cubicle/desk label? And perhaps an explanation on the corporate Intranet coupled with an employee awareness session that basically says: “If you see staff with a gold start on their nameplates, that means they do review of user generated content & they might be viewing material that might seem inappropriate at times but this is all accepted.”

Perhaps ask H.R. to include something in orientation/on-baording that will allow the issue to be addressed at the start so nobody is shocked if/when someone comes across someone viewing what might seem like inappropriate content at work?

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Rather than have employees who are physically located in the office performing such content review, you should consider employing individuals who will work remotely to provide the service. There is no element of content review which benefits from physical colocation of the reviewers with the rest of your employees as far as you have described. You will also benefit from the increased productivity of people working from home, as well as a boost in productivity from not being exposed to an open floor plan (which has shown quite conclusively to be detrimental to productivity). Your organization would also save money in terms of the facilities and utilities not needing to be provided to remote workers.

There are a couple issues I can imagine that some organizations might have with this. The first one that comes to mind is that since this task is currently carried out by employees in short intervals, it is not recognized as a task worth employing someone full-time to perform. This is simply flawed thinking, as the employees who spend time reviewing content are still being paid. Concentrating that task into a dedicated role wouldn't change anything in terms of how much is being paid for the work to be done.

The other concern might be simply that the organization doesn't know how to handle remote workers. This is something that all organizations are going to have to learn, and those dealing in digital products or services will need to learn it soonest. It would be to the organizations benefit to begin working towards supporting remote workers, and this task really sounds like it would be an excellent practice case. Content review likely doesn't involve meetings and constant communication as something like development or operations work might, so there would be fewer hurdles to clear.

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There are companies that specialize in providing content filtering and moderation services for sites that accept community created content, why not outsource it to the people that are experts in dealing with these kinds of things?

It's potentially very icky if someone feels that their exposure to this in their workplace is worth speaking with a lawyer about, and someone could also say that they felt coerced into 'being part of the team' that has to be exposed to this else they wouldn't have certain advancement opportunities.

Firms that I've worked with in the past have been very well set up for this sort of thing, they have the legal and HR aspects covered, they have complex systems that limit the amount of human exposure needed - and they're probably going to be cheaper than what you're spending now.

Make it the problem of someone specifically set up to handle this sort of thing, and you don't have to worry about it anymore. The only work on your end is doing whatever is needed to tie the third-party into the process, and I'm sure they've got people that can help you with that as well.

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If we have hanging boards around the review section(may be way in and way out) notifying about the situation, then those who come to that part of the office will definitely won't see the unexpected.

I think you need a screen in this case

enter image description here

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