6 Things Online Trust & Safety Teams Can Do to Reduce the Stress of Working with Traumatic Imagery

By Tony Madril Therapy & Training, LCSW, PC

For many Trust & Safety teams whose responsibility it is to investigate potential violations to the rules of the online communities they serve, the “daily grind” often involves inspecting multiple images that have the potential to trigger highly distressing emotions such as horror, disgust, and fear due to the traumatic nature of the photographs and videos posted by sickly users of the online platform. A video showing a live beheading of another human being is one example of such traumatic images. Research suggests that repeated exposure to traumatic material creates a certain vulnerability for developing vicarious trauma or some form of traumatic stress[1]; therefore, it is imperative to the health and wellbeing of online Trust and Safety teams to have ready various practical tools and techniques to help mitigate the emotional burden of regularly working with traumatic imagery. Here are six tools I have developed for online Trust and Safety teams to help prevent vicarious trauma and other forms of work-related stress:

  1. Reconnect to the highest purpose of the job. Perhaps the highest purpose of the job for online Trust and Safety teams is to protect others from various types of harm. Remembering this when feeling discouraged by the number of people who are psychologically or financially harmed by online perpetrators may help to refocus the mind onto the positive impact you are having as a valuable member of a Trust and Safety team. Repeating a mantra such as: “Each day, I am doing my part to prevent traumatic material from spreading and causing more harm to others” may help to balance your perspective and settle your emotions.


  1. Release judgment. Feeling resentment toward a single identifiable perpetrator of harm, although understandable, may entangle you in a web of negative emotions, which may intensify over time. It may help you “let go” of this distress by viewing the images with a mindful sense of curiosity rather than judgment; recognizing the fact that there were likely multiple factors that ultimately led to the creation and perpetuation of these online images such as technology-related security flaws, the perpetrator’s own history of abuse, societal problems as well as those factors which may never be fully explained.


  1. Practice dual concentration. Refocusing a significant part of your attention away from the distressing image and onto a neutral point of focus such as the sensation created by caressing a polished stone or squeezing a stress ball. It might help to apply what I call the 60:40 rule to the situation where 60% of your focus is dedicated to examining the distressing image and 40% is dedicated to exploring the neutral object.


  1. Dis-identify with traumatic material. It might help to make it a conscious practice to regularly create a mental boundary between what you are personally responsible for causing and what you are not. For example, while reviewing traumatic material to complete a work assignment you might make it a point to say to yourself: “I did not create or cause this, this is not mine!” For some, it may even be helpful to accompany this comment with a specific type of behavioral ritual to further separate who you are from what you do, such as nodding your head or waving your hands as if to non-verbally say “no.”


  1. Practice self-compassion. You can practice self-compassion at work by making a personal decision not to become entangled with the traumatic images by using the tools mentioned above and by refraining from getting involved in the case beyond what is required. You might compassionately say to yourself: “This is not worth the harm it will cause me in the form of stress, fatigue, and physical ailments.”


  1. Create an end-of-the-day ritual. Creating tangible end-of-the-day rituals like immediately changing your clothes after you have signed-off from your work computer may help you to better separate your professional life from your personal life. In addition, it may help you accept and appreciate what it is you were able to accomplish for the day and “let go” of the rest like those things about your work that are outside of your control.


If you are interested in learning more about these tools or about the process of preventing vicarious trauma within online Trust and Safety teams, please feel free to contact me @ (323) 315-2598 or tony@tonymadriltherapy.com

1Cieslak, R., Shoji, K., Douglas, A., Melville, E., Luszczynska, A., & Benight, C. C. (2014). A meta-analysis of the relationship between job burnout and secondary traumatic stress among workers with indirect exposure to trauma. Psychological services11(1), 75.


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