Andy Murray v Illya Marchenko: Australian Open first round live!

Game-by-game report: World No1 Andy Murray gets his campaign to snare the as-yet elusive Australian Open crown up and running. Join Adam Collins for updates

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/live/2017/jan/16/andy-murray-v-illya-marchenko-australian-open-first-round-live

Late penalty costs Chiefs as Steelers advance to AFC championship game

The Pittsburgh Steelers are going to get a rematch with the New England Patriots in the AFC championship game

The PittsburghSteelersare going to get a rematch with the New England Patriots in the AFC championship game.

Chris Boswell set an NFL record with six field goals, LeVeon Bell broke his own franchise playoff record by running for 170 yards as theSteelersadvanced to the AFC title game for the first time since the 2010 season.

The Patriots beat theSteelers27-16 on 23 October. Pittsburgh played without quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who was out with a knee injury.

TheSteelershave won nine straight games.

Alex Smith threw for 172 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Spencer Ware ran for a one-yard score with 2:43 remaining to get the Chiefs within two points. They converted a two-point attempt but it was called by due to a holding penalty on left tackle Eric Fisher. The ensuing pass fell incomplete and Pittsburgh ran out the clock.

Kansas City remain winless at home in the playoffs since the 1993 postseason.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2017/jan/15/kansas-city-chiefs-pittsburgh-steelers-nfl-playoffs-game-report

Wild populism has a long history in US politics, but Trump is surely unique | Geoffrey Kabaservice

There has never been a president quite like him. But, as the author of the definitive account of the Republican party explains, Trumps proposals and rhetoric have a heritage that stretches back to the 19th century

In the run-up to the US presidential election, pundits proclaimed that the outcome would be historic. What they meant, invariably, was that they expected Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton to shatter precedent by becoming the countrys first woman president. Instead, Washington DC now prepares for the inauguration of president-elect Donald Trump. But the New York businessmans victory was also historic. While both his candidacy and his impending presidency call to mind some features of the Republican partys recent history, they also represent a significant departure from the countrys past political patterns.

Trumps win was one of the greatest upsets in American political history. But it was far from the landslide that Trump claimed and marked only the fifth time that a presidential candidate won the electoral college while losing the popular vote. Trump also will enter the presidency with the lowest favourability ratings in modern history.

The controversies of recent weeks, from Trumps social media battles against film stars to the sensational (and unsubstantiated) intelligence reports about his putative financial and carnal dealings with Russia, have vaporised the honeymoon that incoming presidents traditionally enjoy.

Trump may yet become a popular leader. George W Bush won an even closer and more contentious election in 2000, faced similar not my president opposition from the left and still won a second term. But Bushs message of compassionate conservatism appealed to a much broader constituency than Trumps hard-edged culture warfare and the Republican party united behind him for most of his presidency.

Trump, by contrast, won the partys presidential nomination by staging something like a coup against its leadership. In that sense, he resembles Barry Goldwater, the rightwing Arizona senator who was the Republican presidential candidate in 1964. Like Trump, Goldwater was an anti-establishment firebrand with a habit of making extreme statements on sensitive subjects (such as race and nuclear weapons). The Republican organisation opposed his candidacy on the grounds that his conservative beliefs were too far removed from the partys mainstream, but he seized the nomination by mobilising an army of impassioned grassroots activists.

After presiding over a divided party convention, the prickly and headstrong Goldwater refused to pivot toward a more measured, level-headed presidential posture. Like Trump, he had no interest in reaching out to groups that were sceptical of his candidacy, such as minorities and college graduates. He did, however, appeal to many less-educated voters in the white working class who hadnt previously taken much interest in politics.

Indeed, Goldwaters campaign, like Trumps, was founded on the belief that a hidden majority of Americans would turn out to the polls when they finally were offered a real alternative to status-quo, business-as-usual politics. Goldwater said he represented a choice, not an echo. That phrase became the battle cry of his champion, Phyllis Schlafly, who, before she died in September aged 92, hailed the same populist potential in Trump.

Goldwater, unlike Trump, lost the presidential election in a wipeout and dragged down Republican congressional candidates with him. But, in 1964 as in 2016, many Republican candidates disavowed their partys presidential nominee, or at least distanced themselves from his candidacy. For some Republicans running for the House or Senate last year, Trumps bullying behaviour, lack of interest in the fine details of policy and government and intemperate remarks about Mexican rapists and murderers disqualified him from the presidency. Many more called for Trump to abandon the race after a 2005 hidden-mic recording of his crude sexual comments became public.

In the wake of Trumps unexpected victory, it has suited both him and his erstwhile intraparty critics to reconcile. The Republican leadership has insisted that party members in both Congress and the White House will be singing from the same hymn sheet. Republicans have exercised control of both the legislative and executive branches for only six of the past 80 years, so theyre anxious to make the most of this opportunity.

But this Republican unity is more apparent than real. Unlike Ronald Reagan in 1980 or Barack Obama in 2008, Trump didnt have much of a coat-tail effect on down-ballot candidates. Few Republicans in Congress feel they owe their elections to Trump. In fact, in many traditionally Republican suburban districts, Trump performed significantly less well than Mitt Romney did in 2012. In dozens of these districts, the Republican congressional candidates ran ahead of Trump by double digits.

More importantly, Trump and the Republican party stand for very different things. Ever since the election of Reagan in 1980, the party has been dominated by ideological conservatism. Trump is not in any meaningful sense a conservative; he is, rather, a populist.

Populism has a long and durable tradition in American politics. Much of Trumps campaign rhetoric unconsciously echoes the 1892 platform of the Peoples party (better known as the Populists), from its denunciations of biased media and imported pauperised labour to its insistence that the nation had been brought to the verge of moral, political and material ruin.

Populism is in many ways an appealing doctrine. Trump won the presidency because he sensed, as no other candidate did, that many of the plain people (to borrow another phrase from the Populists 1892 platform) feel ignored and even despised by the elites of both parties. His candidacy, like that of Vermont senator Bernie Sanders on the left, resonated because increasing numbers of citizens believe that the economic and political systems of the country are rigged against them. Trump has complicated the traditional calculus of left and right in interesting ways, winning over many union members who feel threatened by free trade and globalisation.

Most successful American presidents, from Franklin D Roosevelt to Reagan to Bill Clinton, have been populists to some extent. But leaders of both parties also have been wary of populisms tendency to slide into demagoguery. History has shown that populists find it difficult to resist scapegoating minorities and outsiders, proffering simplistic and unrealistic solutions for complicated problems and destroying trust in every social or government institution other than the military and police.

Trump in many ways resembles previous populists who ran for the presidency, such as Patrick Buchanan (who also campaigned on the slogan America First) and Alabama governor George Wallace. But there has there never been a full-blooded populist in the White House, with the arguable exception of Andrew Jackson.

Trumps populism conflicts at many points with the beliefs most Republicans have supported for the past century. His call for a trillion-dollar upgrade to the nations infrastructure suggests an affinity with Dwight Eisenhowers construction of the national highway system, but Trump doesnt appear to share Ikes budget-balancing fiscal conservatism or his internationalism. His indifference to hot-button social issues such as gay marriage puts him at odds with religious conservatives. His willingness to spend federal funds in pursuit of American greatness, as, for example, by building a wall on the Mexican border, offends minimal-government libertarians. His divisive rhetoric undermines a half century of effort by Republican activists to build a broader and more inclusive party.

Trumps populism makes him an outsider in the party that he nominally leads. So, too, does the fact that he is the first president in US history to enter office without political or military experience. But Trumps distance from traditional politics raises hopes that he may be able to break through some of the nations seemingly intractable problems.

For example, both Republicans and Democrats agree that the countrys corporate and individual tax systems are a mess. Genuine reform, of the sort Reagan and Congress achieved in 1986, can happen if Trump shows a willingness to stand up against special interests and forge bipartisan coalitions.

The American dream of socioeconomic advance from generation to generation depends on a growing economy. That dream cant be fulfilled if economic growth creeps along at the anaemic pace of the past decade and working-age men continue to have a lower labour participation rate than they did in 1940. Neither of Americas political parties has seriously focused on increasing employment, but already this is becoming a greater priority for both Republicans and Democrats thanks to Trump.

Future historians may see the Republicans under Trump as a return to the partys now-forgotten traditions of the pre-conservative era, from the 1860s to the 1920s. In those days, when the party saw itself as the champion of the white working class, it was distinguished by protectionism, anti-internationalism, acceptance of powerful government and an emphasis on social order over individual freedom, all elements that some day may be known as Trumpism.

The president-elect, who made much of his money from casinos, represents a huge, historic gamble for both the Republican party and the country. Whether he succeeds or fails, he is likely to reshape Americas political system in far-reaching ways.

Comments will be opened later

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jan/15/wild-populism-long-history-us-politics-trump-surely-unique

Falcons advance to NFC championship game after surging past Seahawks

Quarterback Matt Ryan throws for 338 yards and three touchdowns as Falcons win 36-20 to set up showdown with Dallas or Green Bay

Matt Ryan looked very much like an MVP, and the Atlanta Falcons are headed to the NFC championship game.

Ryan threw for 338 yards and three touchdowns, leading the Falcons to a 36-20 victory over the Seattle Seahawks in the divisional round Saturday.

Atlanta will face either the Dallas Cowboys or the Green Bay Packers, who meet Sunday in the NFCs other divisional game.

After the Seahawks zipped down the field for a touchdown on the opening possession, Atlantas young defense largely shut down Russell Wilson & co the rest of the way.

Ryan and the high-scoring Falcons took it from there getting a huge boost from a holding penalty that wiped out an 80-yard punt return by Devin Hester.

Ryan hooked up with Julio Jones on a seven-yard touchdown and Tevin Coleman for a 14-yard score before finishing off the Seahawks with a three-yard toss to Mohamed Sanu in the corner of the end zone with just under four minutes remaining, sparking a raucous chant of MVP! MVP! MVP! from a Georgia Dome crowd that stood most of the game, giving the Falcons the sort of home-field advantage that Seattle is used to having at the Link.

Before a foot injury limited him in the second half, Jones made life miserable for Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman, who got away with an apparent pass interference penalty on Atlantas star receiver when the teams met during the regular season, preserving a 26-24 victory for the Seahawks.

Jones was targeted eight times, coming up with six receptions for 67 yards to set a tone that Atlanta would not be intimidate by the Legion of Boom.

But, as usual, Ryan spread the ball around to everyone. Speedy Taylor Gabriel had a 37-yard reception.

Running back Devonta Freeman slipped out of the backfield to haul in a 53-yard pass, putting a dazzling fake on replacement free safety Steven Terrell right in the middle of the field.

In all, eight players caught passes for Atlanta.

For only the fourth time in their 51-year history, the Falcons (12-5) will be playing for the conference title and a spot in the Super Bowl.

They made their only Super Bowl appearance during the 1998 season, falling to Denver in John Elways final game, and lost in the NFC title game during the 2004 and 2012 seasons.

The Seahawks (11-6-1) couldnt follow up a dominating win over Detroit in the opening round, the game turning dramatically on a holding penalty in the second quarter that wiped out Hesters return to the Atlanta 7.

Instead of having first-and-goal and a chance to extend a 10-7 lead, Seattle was backed up to its seven. After Thomas Rawls was thrown for a three-yard loss, Wilson attempted to drop back for a pass.

One problem: rookie right guard Rees Odhiambo, taking over after Germain Ifedi was injured, stepped back onto Wilsons foot, sending the quarterback tumbling down in the end zone. Ben Garland fell on Wilson for a safety that turned the momentum Atlantas way.

Matt Bryants 35-yard field goal put the Falcons ahead to stay, and the home team closed out the first half with a 99-yard drive touchdown that was extended by Sanus brilliant, one-handed catch for 22 yards with Jeremy Lane grabbing at his arm.

After getting beat on Seattles first possession, an Atlanta defense featuring four rookies and a bunch of second-year players limited the Seahawks to a pair of a field goals before giving up a meaningless 31-yard touchdown pass to Doug Baldwin in the closing minutes.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2017/jan/14/atlanta-falcons-nfc-championship-game-seahawks-nfl

Ivory Coast rebel troops agree huge pay deal ending tense standoff

Agreement follows gunfire at barracks across country as rebels demanded large bonus payments

Ivory Coasts government and rebel troops have reached a final deal at talks in Bouake, government sources said late on Friday at the close of a tense day which saw outbreaks of gunfire at barracks across the country.

Soldiers in Bouake mutinied earlier this month, firing rocket-launchers and terrifying residents of Ivory Coasts second largest city, while demanding bonuses, better pay and housing.

The protests then spread to other cities, including the economic capital Abidjan, stoking security fears in the worlds top cocoa producer.

The mutiny saw president Alassane Ouattara order major changes in the top security ranks the armed forces chief of staff, the senior commander of the national gendarmerie and the director-general of the police.

A deal has been reached in Bouake between the chief of staff, the defence minister and the (rebel) troops, a source close to the presidency told AFP.

Several rebel soldiers confirmed that a deal had been struck, with one telling AFP: We are pleased, weve reached an agreement.

The troops have agreed to return to their barracks, and for this reason gunfire has halted in Bouake, a local official said. He said the mutineers had managed to obtain a bonus of about $US8,000 each.

While an initial deal had been reached almost a week ago, talks on implementing the agreement only began Friday and tensions were high with rebel troops taking up positions on the roads into Bouake and firing into the air.

Regular gunfire was heard throughout the day, including at Akouedo, the biggest barracks in the capital Abidjan and at Odienne in the northwest and Bondoukou in the east.

There were fears before the deal was struck that the defence minister could be taken hostage and a general mutiny unleased. However, he left the talks unharmed.

One source said the soldiers had originally been demanding a raise of $16,000 each, a significant amount given that many Ivorians earn about $160 a month.

It remains to be seen how the government will finance its promise of the agreed $8,000 bonus.

In more problems for the government, Ivorian state employees were also on strike this week protesting against pension cuts and a plan to raise the retirement age.

Bouake, which is home to 1.5 million people, was the cradle of a rebellion which erupted in 2002 in a failed attempt to oust then-president Laurent Gbagbo.

The revolt sliced the former French colony into the rebel-held north and the government-controlled south and triggered years of unrest.

Twelve years later, a similar dispute over pay by rebels-turned-soldiers erupted in Bouake which spread to Abidjan and briefly brought the country to a standstill. The government then agreed to a deal that provided amnesty for the mutineers and a financial settlement.

The Ivorian army, which consists of about 22,000 soldiers, includes many former rebels who were integrated into the armed forces after years of conflict.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jan/14/ivory-coast-rebel-troops-agree-pay-deal-ending-tense-standoff

Storms and floods force evacuation of thousands on east coast

Emergency services out in force and many spend night in shelters, but storm surge causes less damage than was feared

Thousands of people along Englands east coast have been evacuated from their homes as life-threatening floods were expected to hit towns and villages at Friday nights high tide.

But while many have been forced to spend the night in shelters, there was relief as the tide came and went without the storm surge causing as much damage to communities as had been feared.

There was some flooding along the Yorkshire coast and people in Essex were still crossing their fingers late into Friday night, with the worst set to hit in the early hours of this morning.

Norfolk fire and rescue service said it attended a few incidents to assist with flooding but the area, which was expected to be the worst hit, seemed to have been largely spared.

The river did get pretty high but I didnt think it would ever go over the walls. I guess there was a lot of panicking but you cant be too careful, said 52-year-old Charles Osborne from Great Yarmouth, Norfolk.

Late on Friday, Norfolk police said a man had been arrested for public order offences after jumping into the river in Great Yarmouth amid the flood warnings. Despite numerous warnings from police and our partner agencies to stay away from the water, a small number of people do not seem to be taking this message seriously, Supt Dave Buckley said.

Police, the fire service and the army were called out to protect residents along the east coast. Flooding had been expected around midday on Friday but high tide passed without incident.

In the evening, the Environment Agency (EA) had 17 severe warnings in effect. An evacuation also took place in Jaywick, near Clacton-on-Sea, Essex. A severe flood warning remained in place for the village for the high tide expected shortly after midnight.

A full evacuation plan was triggered at about 11am on Friday, and by the evening, scores had sought safety in emergency refuges in Essex. By early evening more than 170 people had registered many with their pets at emergency rest centres in Clacton and West Mersea.

Earlier, Essex police insisted they were not crying wolf as they urged residents to evacuate homes immediately. Some residents facing evacuation have expressed concerns about looting, but police said there would be increased patrols around empty properties.

Some in Jaywick decided to stay put. Tracey Edwards, 51, said the police told her to try to get some sleep in the early evening so she could be alert between midnight and 2am, when the tidal surge was expected to peak.

She said she would remain at home because of her snakes and bearded dragons, which could not be moved to the rest centre. It is mostly the elderly that have gone, a few people have had family come and pick them up but most people are staying in, she added.

Mother-of-two Danielle Hammond, 21, said she was staying at home for now but had moved her belongings upstairs. I did it all three years ago and came home to a couple of puddles on the ground, she added.

North Yorkshires coastal residents were also warned to be prepared for large tidal surges yesterday afternoon. The local fire and rescue service said crews were dealing with flooding in Sandsend, an area where high tides had been expected to cause problems. A spokesman said the service had set up command hubs in strategic locations. Some flooding was also seen in Whitby.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/jan/14/storms-and-floods-force-evacuation-of-thousands-on-east-coast

Cyprus reunification talks stall over question of security

UN-led negotiations to resume within days with hope remaining for last effort to reach deal between Greek and Turkish sides

UN-led talks in Geneva hoping to create a reunified Cyprus after decades of bitter division ended without a breakthrough on Thursday, leaving officials to reconvene later this month to readdress the issue of how any agreement could be militarily secured.

The two sides will meet again on 18 January to look again at the security question, before a fresh attempt to forge a complete political deal.

The UN secretary general, Antnio Guterres, said he was confident the participants were determined to make a last effort to find a solution. There was no precise date set for the guarantors of the process the Greek, Turkish and British foreign ministers to meet again. Negotiators said much progress had been made on the shape of the deal, but more time was needed to agree how external actors could persuade islanders that any plan will be enforced.

The outcome of the four days of talks is at one level a disappointment since there had been hopes that the Greek and Turkish Cypriots might sign a final outcome agreement. But diplomats think the talks have not collapsed, and the scope for an agreement genuinely remains.

Boris Johnson, the foreign secretary, was upbeat, saying: I welcome the real progress made towards finding a solution to the Cyprus settlement over the last few days, in particular on the future security of a united Cyprus.

He added: With continued commitment and political will, I believe a historical agreement is within reach.

Britain is offering to almost halve the territorial size of its military bases. Separately, the UK has said it is up to the other parties to decide if they wish it to continue as a guarantor. It could end that role, but only if the Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot populations agreed to a new arrangement. A range of possible alternative multinational guarantors are conceivable including the EU, the UN, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe and Nato.

Greece is pressing for the 30,000 Turkish troops to leave the island over a fixed timetable and for Ankara to end its right to intervene. Turkey has so far refused to make that concession, but it is widely agreed the deal on security probably the most difficult part of the talks is dependent on how favourably the two communities view the agreement on the internal dossiers on governance, boundaries, compensation, the economy and relations with the EU.

Turkey is demanding that all Turkish Cypriots receive full rights to EU membership. Guterres stressed no one was looking for miracles or a quick fix, but a solid and sustainable solution.

Our goal here is to get the necessary results and to do that we want to work seriously for the amount of time that is necessary, he said. We are facing so many situations of disaster, we badly need a symbol of hope. I strongly believe Cyprus can be the symbol of hope at the beginning of 2017.

Guterres said a deal was needed that satisfied both sides, pointing out any agreement would have to be put to the two communities in a referendum. He added: Looking at what is happening in the world, referenda are not an easy challenge.

The island was split in a Turkish invasion in 1974, which was triggered by a coup organised by Greek and Greek Cypriot nationalists trying to unite the island with Greece.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jan/13/cyprus-reunification-talks-stall-over-question-of-security

Human Rights Watch says Papua New Guinea has failed to protect women and children

Organisation warns of grave dangers from rise of populist leaders and issues a scathing assessment of Australias nearest neighbour

Papua New Guineans took to the streets to protest against government corruption and were met by gunfire, Human Rights Watch has said in a scathing assessment of Australias nearest neighbour.

In its annual assessment of more than 90 countries, Human Rights Watch has warned of the rise of populist leaders threatening the protection of human rights. It says PNG has failed to protect women and children, or to respond to corruption and police violence.

Anger against the Peter ONeill government linked to numerous and high-profile corruption scandals and allegations over recent years became the focus of student protests, culminating in the march on parliament in Port Moresby in June calling for ONeills resignation.

The students, who had boycotted classes, were stopped from boarding buses to parliament where ONeill was set to face a vote of no-confidence. Police opened fire, and 23 people were injured.

ONeill was defiant, and blamed agitators funded by the opposition for the protests, which spread and escalated across the country.

People took to the streets to voice concerns about corruption, and the only government response was gunfire, said Elaine Pearson, Australia director at Human Rights Watch.

Corruption and abuse will only end when abusive officials are held responsible for their crimes.

ONeill, who continues to avoid an arrest warrant over a long-running corruption investigation, survived a no-confidence motion in parliament the next month.

Internal tensions within police also came to a head when the police commissioner, Gari Baki, sacked the head of the anti-corruption directorate following his departments arrest of a supreme court judge, the attorney general and the prime ministers lawyer.

In January 2016, Baki declared he would crack down on abuse by police officers there had been 1,600 complaints between 2007 and 2014. However, Human Rights Watch said it was unclear how many, if any, resulted in criminal convictions of police officers.

Police abuse, including of children, continues to be reported with little accountability even for fatalities or egregious physical abuse.

The report found little else had changed for the better, and said Papua New Guinea remained one of the most dangerous places in the world for women and girls. Police and prosecutors continued their track record of rarely prosecuting cases against perpetrators of family violence, despite a government focus on reform.

The family protection legislation of 2013 was yet to be acted on, and Pearson accused the government of failing miserably to protect women and girls from discrimination and family violence.

Sorcery-related violence continued, with horrific acts committed against women accused of being witches, and the countrys judicial system recorded its first convictions under a 1975 law outlawing abortion, the report highlighted.

Homosexuality remained illegal and punishable by up to 14 years in prison, and the death penalty had not been abolished, despite both issues being subject to recommendations at the UN periodic review. The PNG government has said LGBT rights are not a priority.

The assessment on Papua New Guinea was part of a report on more than 90 countries, including Australia, which was criticised for its continuing poor record on Indigenous incarceration and its treatment of asylum seekers and refugees. Human Rights Watch called for PNG and Australia to work to immediately close the Manus Island detention centre.

The Human Rights Watch director, Kenneth Roth, said the world was seeing the rise of a new generation of populist leaders treating human rights as an impediment to their conception of the majority will.

We forget at our peril the demagogues of yesteryearthe fascists, communists, and their ilk who claimed privileged insight into the majoritys interest but ended up crushing the individual. When populists treat rights as an obstacle to their vision of the majority will, it is only a matter of time before they turn on those who disagree with their agenda.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/law/2017/jan/13/human-rights-watch-report-papua-new-guinea-australia-asylum-seekers

Avalanche comes through man’s front door

Steven Siig from North Lake Tahoe, California, photographs snow piled up inside his house after controlled avalanche nearby

A northern California man photographed snow from an avalanche bursting through his front door as the state continued to battle storms.

Steven Siig from Alpine Meadows, North Lake Tahoe, said he was hunkered down with his three children, wife and large German shepherd after a controlled avalanche set off by ski patrol encased his home in snow on Tuesday.

The independent cinematographer, producer and theatre owner said he had received plenty of offers to help and places to stay after posting photos of the avalanche aftermath on social media.

Full-sized

Full-sized picture of the avalanche inside Steven Siigs house. Photograph: Steven and Melissa Siig/AP

Siig said he had seen a few major avalanches while living in the house but this may have been the biggest. But he said he felt safe because he was warned it was coming.

The California highway patrol in nearby Truckee confirmed the Alpine Meadows ski patrol had been setting off controlled avalanches.

Forecasters predicted up to 7ft of snow around the resorts of Lake Tahoe as a heavy blizzrd passed through.

Many ski resorts shut down on Tuesday because of the storm and some remained closed on Wednesday.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jan/12/avalanche-comes-through-mans-front-door

Moderators who had to view child abuse content sue Microsoft, claiming PTSD

Two employees say company didnt offer adequate psychological support for a job requiring them to view indescribable sexual assaults and murders

Microsoft workers on the online safety team were forced to view photos and videos of indescribable sexual assaults, horrible brutality, murder and child abuse, resulting in severe post-traumatic stress disorder, according to a lawsuit.

The complaint, filed on behalf of two employees and their families, outlined the inhumane and disgusting content the moderators viewed on a regular basis and alleged that the psychological impact has been so extreme that the men are triggered by simply seeing children and can no longer use computers without breaking down.

The lawsuit, which accused Microsoft of negligent infliction of emotional distress, provides a window into the often secretive world of online moderation and sheds light on the intense suffering of tech workers responsible for detecting and reporting digital content designed to entertain the most twisted and sick minded people in the world.

Its horrendous, said Ben Wells, one of the attorneys who filed the suit in Washington state, where Microsoft is headquartered. Its bad enough just to see a child get sexually molested. Then there are murders. Unspeakable things are done to these children.

If the suit prevails, it could have ramifications for corporations across the industry, and Wells said he hopes the case inspires others to speak out about poor working conditions.

A Microsoft spokesperson said in a statement that the company disagrees with the claims in the suit and takes seriously its responsibility to remove and report imagery of child sexual exploitation and abuse being shared on its services, as well as the health and resiliency of the employees who do this important work.

Plaintiffs Henry Soto and Greg Blauert both worked on the online safety team, which is responsible for complying with legislation passed in 2008 requiring tech companies to report child abuse images and other crimes.

Microsoft did not warn the workers about the dangers of this line of work and the potential for debilitating injuries, according to the suit, which was filed in December and was publicly reported this week.

When Soto was involuntarily transferred to the unit in 2008, he had God-like status, which meant he could view any customers communications, the suit said. His job involved assisting law enforcement in breaking up crime rings and violent groups and required him to view many thousands of photographs and videos of violence and brutality.

Many people simply cannot imagine what Mr Soto had to view on a daily basis as most people do not understand how horrible and inhumane the worst people in the world can be, his lawyers wrote. Blauert, who was hired as a full-time employee in 2012, was also required to review thousands of images of child pornography, adult pornography and bestiality that graphically depicted the violence and depravity of the perpetrators.

Although Microsoft created a wellness program and offered a counselor, the services were insufficient and ineffective and the company failed to help the workers understand the vicarious trauma and PTSD they were suffering, according to the suit.

Program authorities advised the workers to take walks and smoke breaks and suggested Blauert play video games to manage his symptoms, the complaint said. Later, however, his supervisors allegedly gave him a poor evaluation for lack of production and too much time playing video games.

When Soto initially met with psychiatrists, he said he was experiencing sleep disturbances, nightmares, anxiety and suffered from an internal video screen in his head and could see disturbing images. As time progressed, he began experiencing visual hallucinations, panic attacks in public, disassociation and depression.

One of the triggers for him is children, Wells told the Guardian. At times, he cant look at his own son He cant see a knife in the kitchen He cant look at computers.

Soto eventually went on medical leave.

Blauert suffered a physical and mental breakdown in 2013 when he was experiencing intractable crying, insomnia, anxiety and PTSD, the suit said. He is now triggered by adults who look like potential abusers and fears for the safety of children he meets. He is also unable to look at any child related content on computers and has not returned to work due to the triggers, according to the complaint.

The men are seeking damages, and the complaint also outlined potential reforms that would make the online safety job less harmful. That includes mandatory rotations out of the program, more time off, weekly meetings with a psychologist and a spousal wellness program.

Microsoft declined to comment on the specific claims, but said in a statement: The health and safety of our employees who do this difficult work is a top priority.

The corporation also said it provides mandatory psychological support each month, uses technology to reduce the realism of the imagery, reassigns employees who no longer want to do this work, and limits the amount of time the employees spend on the moderation.

Microsoft and other tech corporations need to do a much better job protecting people who are doing heroic work, added Wells. They saved childrens lives. They put people in jail that deserved to be in jail.

The attorney said he believes other tech corporations have similar challenges and inadequate or nonexistent wellness programs. In recent years, there have been past reports of alarming conditions for moderators who review Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other companies.

The public needs to understand that this work is not being done by a computer, Wells said.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/jan/11/microsoft-employees-child-abuse-lawsuit-ptsd