Inside the Team at Facebook That Dealt with the Christchurch Shooting
The New Yorker
At 9:30 p.m. on March 14th, Jay, a thirty-eight-year-old Facebook employee with parted hair and perpetual stubble, was sitting in his living room, in Austin, Texas. His kids were in bed, and he had just turned on a cooking show on Netflix and pulled out his work laptop to send some e-mails. On his Facebook feed, he learned that, roughly two hours before, a man had entered a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, and opened fire. This turned out to be the second of two shootings, during which the gunman killed fifty people and injured another fifty before being arrested. Unlike most people, Jay couldn’t dwell on his feelings of despair. “As soon as I saw the news about the attack that night, I knew immediately this was going to be something my team would be working on,” he told me.
Jay, whose name has been changed to protect his security, is a lawyer by training. In 2015, he left a position working on intellectual-property operations at Facebook to run a new department known as the global-escalations team, which removes heinous images and videos from the platform. At Facebook, human content moderators, assisted by computers, spend their days sifting through posts that users have reported. These posts range from the mundane (teen-agers reporting pictures in which they think they look fat; neighbors reporting each other while squabbling over politics in a comments section) to the grotesque (a beheading by a Mexican drug cartel), exploitative (revenge porn posted by a jilted lover), illegal (communications about a drug deal using an invented language of numbers and emojis), and exhaustingly hateful (threads praising 9/11 or calling for the extermination of people with autism or hereditary baldness, and a seemingly endless stream of racist vitriol). This work takes a toll on moderators, and Jay’s team is focussed on the most virulent content. “There’s a spiritual resiliency they need to have to do the work,” Jay told me. This may explain why Jay has the permanently tired look of a much older man.