‘Every day was a nightmare’ – two horror stories wrapped in one

Members of the Irish parliament have been listening to a very disturbing story. Facebook is a big player in the Irish tech economy but the underbelly of this giant is now being exposed. Within its entrails it is harbouring a monster.

Isabella Plunkett has worked as a Facebook content moderator for just over two years.

She has now told the parliaments’ Joint Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment, about her nightmare job as a moderator viewing graphic content up to eight hours a day. The job is so stressful that Facebook has to provide 24/7 counselling support for staff – but clearly what they do is totally inadequate.

There are two horror stories wrapped in one here. The first is the story of Isabella and all her co-workers in this role. This morning the BBC has told this in its searing detail and the nightmare is clearly still raging. Nothing that Facebook is currently doing or promising to do is solving the problem and the burden that it is asking these workers to endure.

Isabella’s job is to review posts on the platform – which can contain graphic violence, exploitation, extremism, abuse and suicide.

But what, we must ask, does it say about us as a society, as a civilisation, that we have allowed a platform to exist in our midst – and willingly, even gratefully cooperate with it – which is facilitating traffic like this across the world – or that can bring itself to ask a young person to expose themselves to such evil. There is a moral principle which tells us that what it is not good to desire it is not good to look at. This is for a reason – and the reason is that by exposing oneself to certain kinds of evil one risks being contaminated by that evil, even against one’s better judgment.

“It’s not like a normal job where you can go to work and go home and forget about it – the stuff you’re seeing is really ingrained in your mind.” Isabella processes around 100 a day – these can be videos, images or text posts on the platform. She said they often contain graphic violence, suicide, exploitation and abuse. “Every day was a nightmare,” she said, adding that the support given was “insufficient.” 

“It’s not enough. I’m now seeing the content I view in work in my dreams. I remember it, I experience it again and it is horrible.

“You never know what is going to come next and you have to watch it the full way through because they might have violators.”

“It would follow me home. I could just be watching TV at home and think back to one of the horrible, really graphic tickets” – the terms for the units she had to watch.

Depressing for all of us is the realisation that corrupted human nature has been capable of generating the volume of evil which this exposure is now revealing. The pain and misery of Isabella Plunkett is heart-rending but the sea of pain and misery which this monstrous alien living and thriving in the body of Facebook is generating must dismay us beyond horror. That it is so persistent decades after its mothership arrived among us is surely evidence that it is nowhere near vanquished.

The 26-year-old Plunkett says she could not speak to her friends or family about the things she saw at work due to a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) which she had signed at the beginning of her contract. “It was always clear we couldn’t speak about our job, we couldn’t speak about our job to friends, family… and it’s definitely a workplace with a sense of secrecy.” Well it might be, but there are harmless secrets and there are lethal secrets which should not be secret – like the one the Chinese authorities kept under wraps for too long in Wuhan.

Many of us use Facebook every day. I may also buy my newspaper in a store which peddles unspeakable merchandise on its top shelves. I may consider that this does not compromise me morally. But at what point do I draw the line? These revelations – about the suffering of a young woman and the potential corruption of our society at large – may be forcing us to make a choice we might rather not have to face.

The practice of (biased) journalism


The Radio Times, the BBC’s mass circulation listings magazine, promotes a programme on the issue of abortion this week with the following introductory paragraph.

There are few topics as delicate or contentious today as abortion. From Donald Trump’s global gag rule, which sparked international outrage earlier this year, to Ireland’s forthcoming referendum on whether to repeal its abortion ban in 2018, it is one of the most polarising issues of our time

The word “delicate” is ok. I think we can all accept the objectivity of “contentious” as well. But when we move to Trump’s “global gag rule” we begin to feel a little unsure of our ground. No one likes being gagged and people who gag others are generally objectionable. Then there is “international outrage”. Was there no support for his policy move? The final blow to our confidence in the BBC’s honesty, fairness and integrity comes with the Irish reference.

The Irish are not going to the polls next year to repeal or not repeal an “abortion ban.” They will be deciding whether or not to continue to vindicate and defend the right to life of the unborn, whether or not to remove from their constitution the article which says:

The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.

Am I playing wth words? No, I am trying to do what the BBC is failing to do – use words as objectively as I can, stating the facts without the colour of my opinions attached. My effort at trying to describe what the BBC programme is hoping to do would go something like this.

There are few topics as delicate or contentious today as abortion. From Donald Trump’s policies on Planned Parnthood funding, which sparked international outrage among pro-choice supporters earlier this year, to Ireland’s forthcoming referendum on whether to repeal its law on the right to life of the unborn  in 2018, it is one of the most polarising issues of our time.

No matter what your personal opinion on the issue might be I would hope that you would be reasonably comfortable reading that ‘intro’ to the subject. You might still detect something of my personal opinions there but I would also hope that you would detect something of my respect for your right to an opposing opinion. The Radio Times simply  clobbers me over the head with its strident language. Sad.

On reading that opening paragraph in the magazine who could have any expectation that what this programme will present will be anything other than another apology for abortion on demand?

And sadly this is just one small example of the rampant abandonment by so many journalists of any effort to present facts dispassionately when they at the same time proclaim a commitment to that very ideal. The consequence of all this is that they not only destroy our confidence and trust in a great public institution but they undermine the strength and value of their own opinions. If we cannot trust them to give us the facts honestly then we cannot place much value on the opinions which they are calling on those “facts” to support.


Underlying causes which led to Brexit


The philosopher John Gray argued on BBC Radio last week that Brexit will have a greater impact on the EU than it will on the UK. And he predicts the British experience is likely to be repeated across much of continental Europe over the next few years. 

There is much that is compelling in his analysis.One of the most salient points he makes is that the underlying causes which led to Brexit are not to be found in England – or in Britain – but in the EU itself. This is a project which, by overreaching itself, will unravel disastrously unless these are honestly addressed and resolved.

I think what he is saying is that it is time for the promoters of the European project to stop dreaming of a superstate and become more pragmatic. Then we can all get back to living real lives and feel free again.

That this feeling of freedom has evaporated and left  a sense of loss of sovereignty in a number of European countries is dangerous. The do-good idealism inherent in the European project has failed to translate into reality in the hearts of Europeans. Failures like that are often not just unfortunate. They can be dangerous. The resentment generated by failed well-intentioned experiments can be the seed-bed of very dangerous reactions. The theory of this project is not enough, no matter how confident its champions may be that it is working in practice.

Is there at work here an example of  what Tolstoy wrote in War and Peace? He was commenting on the German, General Pfuel, fighting for the Czar. He described him as “one of those hopelessly and immutably self-confident men, self-confident to the point of martyrdom as only Germans are, because only Germans are self-confident on the basis of an abstract notion – science, that is, the supposed knowledge of absolute truth.”

At first sight, Pfuel, in his ill-made uniform of a Russian general, which fitted him badly like a fancy costume, seemed familiar to Prince Andrew, though he saw him now for the first time. There was about him something of Weyrother, Mack, and Schmidt, and many other German theorist-generals whom Prince Andrew had seen in 1805, but he was more typical than any of them… 

A Frenchman is self-assured because he regards himself personally, both in mind and body, as irresistibly attractive to men and women. An Englishman is self-assured, as being a citizen of the best-organized state in the world, and therefore as an Englishman always knows what he should do and knows that all he does as an Englishman is undoubtedly correct. An Italian is self-assured because he is excitable and easily forgets himself and other people. A Russian is self-assured just because he knows nothing does not want to know anything, since he does not believe that anything can be known. The German’s self-assurance is worst of all, stronger and more repulsive than any other, because he imagines that he knows the truth- science- which he himself has invented but which is for him the absolute truth.


Surely this is a sentiment not too far from that of General Pfuel?

Could it be that this self-assurance of Pfuel – or Martin Schulz – is what permeates the European project for “ever-closer union” and that a growing number of those living within the borders of this block are now beginning to feel repelled by it – because they know that it is as ill-fitting for them as the Russian uniform which Pfuel found himself inhabiting? Might it be that the citizens of the best-organized state in the world, paraphrasing Tolstoy,  always knowing what they should do and knowing that all they will do as  Englishmen will undoubtedly be correct – have made the right call on this?

Tanks approaching from the Tiber

From Tienanmen Square to the Via della Conciliazione?

Brendan O’Connor, writer with the Dublin paper, the Sunday Independent went on the rampage against the Catholic Church – again – last weekend  A little in the mold of  The Skibereen Eagle, he is threatening to send  tanks into the Vatican on behalf of the United Nations.

On a more serious level, he is one of growing band of virulently anti-Catholic journalists infecting western media in this new century whose tirades match anything that the anti-Catholic writers of 19th century have left on record. They bring to mind something from the last century which we might have thought was the swan-song of that breed: the contributions to religious debate and ecumenism in the 1960s which used to appear regularly in the Rev. Ian Paisley’s Protestant Telegraph – things like a series entitled “Love Affairs of the Vatican”. Nice bedfellow for Mr O’Connor.

Of course O’Connor had an axe to grind, having been hauled over the coals by the Irish broadcaster, RTE, for landing them in an €80,000+  bowl of soup for defamation. The naivety of the man was astounding, inviting the campest of camp transvestites to name and defame on live television a number of Irish pro-marriage writers and campaigners as being “homophobic”.

In the aftermath of that debacle O’Connor decided to launch into a defence of the United Nation’s latest own goal – its outrageous, arrogant and ignorant rebuke of the Catholic Church which effectively called on it to reformulate the Ten Commandments in the name of the UN’s brand of justice and equality.

Truth is and always has been the first casualty of war and the culture wars are not exception to that particular law of human frailty. Of course the injuries which mark this casualty are more often than not inflicted by way of half-truths and gross exaggerations than by the downright lie. The partial truth missile launched at a target is harder to deflect than the easily refuted barefaced untruth.

Of course there were wretched and renegade clerics at large among the Catholic faithful in the decades following the much vaunted sexual revolution who preyed on vulnerable children as readily as Jimmy Saville and other pop artists and celebrities preyed on the underage groupies who followed in their train; of course there were clerics in authority whose response to the discovery of these aberrations was grossly inadequate – just as were the responses of police and social service personnel; of course the approach of another age to finding solutions to the needs of children thought to be at risk may have failed both children and their parents in terms of principles of justice and charity which are much clearer in our age.

As Caroline Farrow said when she appeared on BBC television to discuss the issue on BBC1′s The Big Questions programme, No right-thinking Catholic wishes to deny or downplay the terrible harm that was caused to victims, a harm that was compounded by the attitude of those within authority who in many cases ignored or disbelieved their claims and some even went so far as to attempt to smear and discredit victims. All of this was contemptible and inexcusable – childhood abuse destroys lives and sets people up with a lifetime of mental health issues.

But truth, she went on to say, is the bedfellow of justice and without it, justice cannot be served. This report lets down the victims by serving a false narrative of orchestrated abuse and a centralised deliberate policy of cover-up, whereas the truth is that the Catholic church is massively decentralised, individual Catholic bishops have a lot more direct canonical power than their Anglican counterparts. Where there were failings this was due to the ineptness at a local level, and if we want to prevent any sort of recurrence then we have to be able to look at what happened and analyse matters objectively. Blaming the Vatican directly is far too glib and simplistic, as well as being erroneous and it lets too many people off the hook, including those members of the laity who colluded with the abuse.

O’Connor begins his diatribe by saying that there wasn’t much new in the UN report. That bit was true. But then he goes on to give his own utterly outrageous take on the whole thing:

The church has a history of trafficking babies, of discriminating against children based on their sexuality or that of their parents, and of allowing children to be abused, of protecting their abusers from the law, of moving abusers around – allowing them to abuse again, and when it came to abuse, of “consistently placing the preservation of the church and the protection of the perpetrators above children’s best interests”. The church has even protected priests from their own children, denying children the right to know the identity of their fathers and “only agreeing payments from the church until the child is financially independent only if they [the mothers] sign a confidentiality agreement not to disclose any information”.

Then he goes on to show not only his own ignorance but swallows wholesale the ignorant utterances of the United Nations Committee which produced this piece of shameless vitriol which with barefaced arrogance called for a response to it from the Holy See.

The UN report is important, he says, because it treats the church as what it is – a de facto state, geographically dispersed throughout the world certainly, but a metaphysical and legal entity, and therefore, “a sovereign subject of international law having an original non derived legal personality independent of any territorial authority of jurisdiction.”

Make no mistake, if the Holy See was an actual country, we would be at the least boycotting its fruit and at the most sending in the tanks. Here is a state that has institutionalised homophobia, discrimination against women and children, that has systematically overseen the protection of the abusers of tens of thousands of children, protecting abusers from the laws of their host countries. Here is a state that has overseen mass scale trafficking of babies, a state that opposes modern health and sexual education for young women, a state that forces secrecy on children, even those who are victims of sexual abuse.

These guys are up there with China or the worst of Africa in terms of their human rights record. And when you look at it coldly and clearly like that, your blood runs cold. Because instead of shunning this rogue state, we have invited it into the very heart of all our countries, and into the heart of our families.

Wisdom after the event is a dangerous potion. The rash and unjust judgements now being meted out, a la O’Connor and company, to the entire Catholic Church and to the entire spectrum of religious organisations which sought to and did serve the Church and society for centuries, is now perpetrating further injustice.

History will, hopefully, look at this era and see this travesty for what it is, a hate-filled campaign – not for justice for the wronged individual children and adults who suffered in the past. This is a campaign whose objective (foolish and as sure to fail as was the campaign of the pagan Roman Empire against Christianity two thousand years ago) is the destruction of the Christian religion and its removal from the face of the earth.

Born to kill?

More of the infuriating madness to which the Late Late Show exposed us was the subject of Charles Moore’s column in yesterday’s Daily Telegraph. But as he sees it, all this is not just madness but is also bad and very dangerous.  He wrote:

 Last week, I appeared on the panel of the BBC’s Any Questions? in Guildford. We were asked whether we thought women should be allowed to take part in full front-line combat roles in the Armed Services. I said I didn’t think that it would be an advance in human civilisation if women abandoned their traditional association with peace and started killing people as men do.

This did not please the questioner, an intelligent student from the politics department of Surrey University, or her supporters sitting with her. They thought that the only question was the ability of the woman – if she was fit to fight, fight she should, and no one should stop her.

Afterwards, I reflected on the oddity of the situation. It did not seem that the student and her colleagues were particularly interested in military matters in themselves. They also did not seem the sort of people who, in other circumstances, would be at all keen on people killing people. I could imagine them protesting against militarism. Yet here they were, pushing for a woman’s right to kill.

Why? Because of Equality, of course. It gets you into strange situations.

(Read the full article in the Telegraph)