My husband is a veteran. So's my brother. My grandfathers were and my great-uncles.
There was an article in Wired last month about content moderation in social media feeds. Adrian Chen, the author, wrote about teams of Filipino men and women who are hired by companies who contract with Facebook, Twitter, or other internet works to monitor what is posted. They are paid to sit and delete pictures of genitalia, graphic violence, abuse, animal cruelty, threatening images, and anything thing that interrupts the flow of happy babies, food pics, and Buzzfeed quizzes.
While a large amount of content moderation takes place overseas, much is still done in the US, often by young college graduates like Swearingen was. Many companies employ a two-tiered moderation system, where the most basic moderation is outsourced abroad while more complex screening, which requires greater cultural familiarity, is done domestically. US-based moderators are much better compensated than their overseas counterparts: A brand-new American moderator for a large tech company in the US can make more in an hour than a veteran Filipino moderator makes in a day. But then a career in the outsourcing industry is something many young Filipinos aspire to, whereas American moderators often fall into the job as a last resort, and burnout is common.
Apparently being well paid for this work in the U.S. means in the neighborhood of $20/hr. So there are people in the world who are working for $20-25/day to absorb the most horrific images of what the human psyche is will to capture in pictures and on film. Burnout is common. Chen speaks with people who quit so they won't become desensitized to the horror, because they can't handle it anymore, because they are becoming so distrustful of their fellow human beings that they are unable to leave the house or find someone to watch their children.
Is $20/day enough for work that may take this kind of toll?
Similarly, there are people we pay to intercede for us- in places we don't want to go, in situations we can't imagine, in circumstances beyond their control. We ask them to make split second decisions about the actions of men, women, and children. We expect them to kill and remain unaffected, to manipulate and yet continue to trust, to obey and still be willing to point out injustice. It's difficult, difficult work that people volunteer for and that turns out to be more than they may have expected.
No one's forced to join the military. No one is forced to become a content moderator.
Sometimes I think that's what we tell ourselves when we don't want to admit that someone else is putting up with a lot to make our lives easier, better, cleaner, safer.... far from the grit and horror that are possible in the world.
If we described what these people did, what they saw, what they would endure... how would we decide what to pay them? What they deserved after their work? How to honor them? How to help them heal? How to respect them?
Before you automatically thank a veteran for his or her service today, remember their work is often content moderation- seeing what's bad and preventing it from getting worse. What's that truly worth to us?