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Content Moderator Startle Response: A Qualitative Study

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Part of the Lecture Notes in Networks and Systems book series (LNNS,volume 695)


Commercial content moderators review user-generated content (UGC) to ensure the posts meet platform policies, guidelines, community standards, and regional laws. While the majority of posted UGC is deemed acceptable, a large amount of content remains, which is classified as non-compliant and may include gore, violence, suicide, child sexual abuse material (CSAM), and pornography, to name a few. Because of this, content moderators have a greater prevalence of their nervous system activating a startle response, which can impact emotional, psychological, and physiological processes. Prior research on content moderators has failed to explore moderators’ initial reactions to content from the start of employment through tenure as the subjection to material and habituation increases. This study takes an in-depth look at moderators’ experiences from recruiting, through training, and production to better understand the content moderators’ startle response and factors that enable startle habituation. The current study sample consisted of 78 total respondents—38 content moderators in the Philippines employed by TaskUs Inc. and 40 in Estonia employed by Sutherland Global Services. Employee tenure ranged from 0 to 6 months. Succeeding our analysis, transparency, understanding, and preparedness were major themes identified as the critical factors found within both companies when exploring the activation of the startle response and facilitation of habituation following content exposure. These themes were prevalent in the employment life-cycle's recruiting, training, and production phases.


  • Commercial content moderation
  • Startle response
  • Startle habituation
  • Well-being
  • Resilience
  • Employee life cycle
  • Recruiting
  • Training

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The authors express deep gratitude for those content moderators who participated in the research and so willingly shared their experiences. With this knowledge, we can better support the well-being of all reviewers. Additionally, the authors would like to thank content moderators worldwide for the tremendous and much-needed work that they do safeguarding the internet and social media platforms for the end-user.


The research study was conducted without any external funding (Table 1).

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TaskUs Inc. and Sutherland Global Services employ the authors and content moderators interviewed for the study.

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© 2024 The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd.

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Bharucha, T., Steiger, M.E., Manchanda, P., Mere, R., Huang, X. (2024). Content Moderator Startle Response: A Qualitative Study. In: Yang, XS., Sherratt, R.S., Dey, N., Joshi, A. (eds) Proceedings of Eighth International Congress on Information and Communication Technology. ICICT 2023. Lecture Notes in Networks and Systems, vol 695. Springer, Singapore.

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  • Print ISBN: 978-981-99-3042-5

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