Skip to content
2 min read

Protecting the Mental Health of Data Labelers

By Katie Zigelman

As artificial intelligence keeps emerging in the digital world, a new job role is gaining momentum - data labeling.

Data labelers play a role in content moderation by reviewing data and images generated by users and identifying (or labeling) them appropriately so that A.I. models can learn.

However, this means personally viewing and making a decision on data that frequently is horrific or disturbing. These images reflect a variety of abuse – whether it be physical, sexual, or emotional. By looking at this content, data labelers not only have to identify that it is wrong, but they have to provide an explanation of what it is representing in detail for AI. 

Seeing the Unexpected

While these data labelers start the day knowing that the content on the agenda may be disturbing, there is always something lurking that is unexpected. Witnessing acts of bullying, abuse, and murder can cause significant distress immediately upon these workers. Despite this discomfort, they must immediately address what they are viewing and outlining it for AI. Because AI requires repetition for intelligence, they can expect to view similar or worse content in the near future. 

Mental Distress

In order to move forward through the workday and get through the horror presented on their monitors, these data labelers find the effects to linger the most on their mental state. One of the most common signs of this is them withdrawing from society due to excessive review of this content. This content is equitable to what social workers, law enforcement personnel and healthcare industry professionals review for investigations. 

Outlets For Untreated Mental Distress

Like most stressful situations, drugs and alcohol can become a haven for these data labelers to help them numb their mental distress and deal with the content they are viewing. Without getting some form of counseling to process this data, they often turn to options that will eliminate the trauma, even if it is only for a little while. These drugs and alcohol can surface during the workplace if they are continuing to do their job without proper counseling. 

Becoming withdrawn from others is another outlet that many data labelers take advantage of when viewing this content for long periods of time. Their emotions become traumatized, and they are not able to interact with others as they once were. This can lead to further negative impacts such as anxiety and depression in these individuals. Their personal relationships outside the office can become affected negatively. 

Protecting Their Mental Health

In order to serve these employees and protect them from the hazards of their job duties, offering quality counseling that is available is just the beginning. These individuals should not be forced to manage the PTSD that can develop from viewing this content regularly, even if they were aware of the content they would be viewing. Having anyone sit through shifts viewing and then having to label this content without any assistance is unjust and inhumane. 

Data labelers will be a necessity for the future with AI growth and insertion across the digital world. How companies maintain and protect their employees while reviewing this content will determine how efficient the position is for the future. While this position may be a low-tier position within the industry, it does not come with a low-tier workload or stress level. 

Before hiring more data labelers, it is best to ensure that current employees have access to the resources they need at any time and generate an atmosphere that is empathetic of the position and encouraging positive mental health. 

Learn more about data labeling best practices from our white paper on the topic.

Learn more about how Spectrum Labs can help you create the best user experience on your platform.