A day in the life of Tamsin, our Hotline Manager

Published:  Tue 4 Oct 2022

Written by:  By Tamsin, IWF Hotline Manager

My cat wakes me up at 4:30am hoping to play. I tell her it’s too early and go back to sleep. At 7:15am I hop on my bike to work, hoping it doesn’t rain as I never remember to bring a change of clothes, so I’ll have to use a fan to dry off if it does. I manage to inadvertently swallow a fly on the way in, but the weather stays dry.  

At the office I make my first coffee, (black, no sugar). I say hi to my colleagues and secretly hope that one of management have brought their dogs in. Alas there’s only humans in the office today! I drop off my negative covid test and put my phone in a locker. We are not allowed any phones or personal equipment upstairs due to it being a secure area. Only people who are allowed to view criminal content can make it through the security-controlled doors. It’s incredibly important to make sure that we don’t expose people to child sexual abuse images if it isn’t necessary.  

My next task is to check if anyone has called in sick, or if the rota needs to be amended in any way. The Hotline team consists of 14 analysts who spend their time investigating reports that have come from members of the public who have stumbled across potential child sexual abuse images, as well as proactively searching for this horrific content. 

I also manage the IWF Taskforce, a team of 14 who spend their days grading image after image of child sexual abuse. This is to create a ‘digital fingerprint’ or a hash of a crime scene photograph which is used to identify and remove these images wherever they appear online.  

Then I check my emails. Anything urgent from our Members? We provide services to Members so they can keep their platforms safe. Therefore, any questions they or our IWF membership team have for me are treated as a priority. I also check our internal system to see how many reports came in overnight. Is there anything urgent from the public? I see a report has come in from a member of the public who wants our assistance for something that falls outside of our remit (someone wants to report a person they believe is possibly an offender). I make sure they are advised that we can only act on images of child sexual abuse, and signpost them to the appropriate place to ask for help. As we are a small team, we simply do not have the resource to help with issues that fall outside of our remit, but we make sure we point people to the numerous places on our website where they can find links to other organisations and assistance.  

I double check to see what tasks the Hotline team have today – a mix of investigating reports from members of the public, and proactively going out to find child sexual abuse material (or CSAM as we call it internally) online. Then I put the radio on – we have internet radio which means we can choose from different genres and countries. Every day is something new – Triple J Unearthed from Australia wins today.  

It’s now 8:30am. I look at my diary. What meetings/tasks do I have today? The rest of the analysts all start between 8 and 9am, so there is a slow trickle of new people to say hello to. At 9am, I have an ‘image viewing’ with a potential new Taskforce candidate. As the role is solely grading images, the last stage of the interview process will involve showing the candidate a certain selection of child sexual abuse images. This is a particularly important stage of the process, as many people who join us will luckily not have stumbled across this type of imagery before. Although someone may feel that they are able to do the job, the reality and seriousness of the crimes documented means that really, you won’t know how you might cope until you have seen them.  

I take the candidate through the images in a separate part of the Hotline room. It is a delicate process, as well as a strange one. I remember what it was like when I was sitting in that chair, going through the same thing, so try to put them at ease as much as possible. I make it clear to the candidate that we will take things slowly, and they can stop the viewing at any time. In this case, the candidate makes it through all the images, and we talk a bit more about the role. As I take them back downstairs, I make sure they are aware of the aftercare that is in place for them, and how seriously we take the welfare for all our staff.  

I’m pleased that the viewing went well. We’ll give them a couple of days to think over whether they still believe the role is right for them. People say that this is one of the hardest jobs out there. It’s not right for everyone, but the people working here, especially within the Hotline team, make me so ridiculously proud. They are fantastic people doing an incredibly difficult, but important, job.  

As the viewing is quite intense (and I talk a lot during it) I make sure I take ten minutes for a quick coffee and a large glass of water. One of my colleagues from our Hotline Quality Assurance team is in the kitchen attempting to put together the first three pieces of the jigsaw puzzle that’s on the table. I’ve learned that jigsaws are not my forte, so I watch in admiration.

Three people talking around table
IWF staff talking in the kitchen

Next, we are onto a regular calibration session with the whole of the Hotline. As it’s now 10:30am the IWF Taskforce have arrived. As they do such an intense job they work shorter shifts, for welfare purposes between 10am-2pm. The calibration session involves choosing a selection of the more difficult images we come across and getting the Hotline to split up into different teams, to discuss the image and come to a decision on how they would grade it. We assess all the images against UK legal guidelines, but there are certain images that do not have an easy answer. 

The aim of these calibrations sessions is to share information, discuss different views, and to then come to an agreed consensus. I walk around the room listening to the various discussions. I believe these sessions are invaluable. Between us, the Hotline has decades of experience, with a wide range of people and backgrounds. Making sure we discuss and share our expertise with each other is an integral part of our work.  

After the calibration session I get back to my desk and send off a report for one of our Members who take our Domain alerts service. I provide them a monthly update on what activity we have seen. Luckily, this month I can say that their services were abused less than the previous month. I hope this is a trend that continues.  

I answer a quick question from our policy team - they are in Brussels for an important meeting, so I quickly respond by giving them the stats they need.  

Two people talking in front of a computer screen
IWF staff talking in front of computer screen

During my day I can be asked by Hotline analysts and Taskforce members for assistance with grading an image or for guidance on how to respond to a report. Although this means I may have to get up and down from my desk, questioning and asking for help is instilled in the team from day one of training.  

A colleague gets bored of the Australian radio station, so we change to Broadway musicals which is a good pick-me-up! Some of the team sing along, but it takes me a few drinks before singing in public, so I stay silent.  

I next resume working on my presentation for a trip I’m taking shortly to see our police partners. I need to talk about the work of the Hotline and the collaboration between the IWF and law enforcement. Luckily, we have a fantastic graphic designer who assists me with some fancy graphics to illustrate my points.  

It’s now lunch time. I look over the fruit delivery we received this morning and pick a nectarine. For balance I add a vegan sausage roll and another coffee. I eat this in our breakout room next to the kitchen which is filled with beanbags and comfy sofas. It appears I’ve just missed the lunch time table-tennis match that two of the analysts take part in daily, so I settle in for some Chinese practice instead - I'm currently on a 69-day streak with Duolingo! 

After lunch I plan the agenda for the weekly management meeting for the Senior Analysts, Deputy Hotline Manager, and myself. What do we need to be focusing on, are there any operational changes they need to be aware of? The Hotline never sits still, and there is always something that is happening or changing in the horizon. It’s important to be agile, as the way the internet works, the tactics offenders use and how children are sexually abused is always changing.  

The Taskforce leave at 2pm, so the office is now a bit quieter - I take this opportunity to change the radio station to French Alt-Indie and turn the volume up! 

I then catch up with two of the analysts to find out how they are getting on with their project on tackling disguised websites. I can’t say too much here, but they manage to impress me with their in depth understanding of these sites.  

As part of my work, I am heavily involved with IntelliGrade - our new tool that allows the Taskforce to create the hashes. I have a thought that may speed up a certain process, so I message a colleague on the tech team to discuss it later.  

Then it’s time to check how many images the team assessed today. I update the whiteboard in the office with the total number which allows anyone to see how we are progressing. It’s also a reminder to the team that in every criminal image they hash, there is at least one victim being abused. A sobering reminder of the importance of the work done here.

Two people talking at desk
IWF staff talking at desk

I get a call from a member of the public - they want to know if we can remove a website that they have seen. I recommend that they report the page on our website so that we can assess it correctly. They are quite distressed by what they have seen, which is completely understandable. Although I see these types of images every day, I know that most people would be absolutely shocked by stumbling over online child sexual abuse images. I offer them some advice on counselling services and remind them that by reporting a potential child sexual abuse image to us, they are doing the right thing. A trained analyst will be able to assess the site and take any appropriate action. The caller seems relieved, and thanks the whole Hotline for the work we do - they can’t believe we are able to do this job.  

It’s now 4pm and home time. I check all of our technical end of day processes are complete and make sure all the security checks are done around the office before locking up. I jump back on my bike, carefully dodging the bees that have got confused by the fake flowers on my basket and begin the journey home. Podcast on - I’m currently swapping between Off Menu and an old Radiolab episode. I’m looking forward to being greeted by my cat and a cup of tea and, less looking forward to my self-imposed workout, but know I’ll feel better for it.  

I can honestly say that once I have left the office, I don’t tend to think about the images I’ve seen. I guess that’s why I’ve been here for eight years. Sadly, child sexual abuse images are still being created, and distributed online, but I know that at least tomorrow I’ll come back to be with, honestly, some of the best people I’ve met to do another essential day’s work.

Tips for helping children stay safe online

Tips for helping children stay safe online

Tips for helping children stay safe online.

20 May 2024 Blog
How online predators use privacy apps. New podcast episode from the IWF

How online predators use privacy apps. New podcast episode from the IWF

In Conversation with Tegan Insoll, Head of Research at Suojellaan Lapsia, and Dan Sexton, Chief Technology Officer at the IWF

15 February 2024 Blog
What did we learn from the US Senate hearing over online harms?

What did we learn from the US Senate hearing over online harms?

By Susie Hargreaves OBE, Internet Watch Foundation CEO

1 February 2024 Blog