Content moderators: at what cost to clean the Internet?

“The first video I saw was a live beheading,” said Daniel Motaung on Tuesday during a press conference organized by the Real Facebook oversight board, an NGO fighting against the platform. “Imagine what it can do to a normal person to watch this kind of content every day,” continued the young man who says he suffers from post-traumatic stress.

This South African worked for six months for Sama, a Meta (ex-Facebook) subcontractor in charge of content moderation social network for countries in East and South Africa. Its function: to remove illegal content from the platform because of its violence, constituting harassment or conveying false information. The man is not exactly anonymous: last February, his testimony made the front page of TimesMagazine.

Daniel Motaung and his attorneys say they represent 240 Sama content moderators in the Nairobi, Kenya office. They first protest against the opacity of the recruitment announcements made by the subcontractor. When hiring, the company mentions “administrative tasks”. Candidates, often from modest backgrounds, are chosen based on their language of origin so that they can monitor a wide variety of content posted on the platform. Meta and Sama “recruit moderators through fraudulent and deceptive methods, an abuse of power, exploiting the vulnerability of young, poor and desperate candidates,” the lawyers say.

Dignity. Their complaint describes “unworthy” working conditions, irregular and insufficient remuneration, a lack of psychological support, performance pressure and attacks on privacy and dignity. To supervise the moderators, Sama had certainly hired “well-being coaches”, specify the lawyers, but little trained and especially without commitment of confidentiality towards the employees. Daniel Motaung was fired after trying to form a union. “They told us that they could easily replace us. They told us, we are doing you a favor. (…) Take what you are given and close it, ”said the former employee.

“We regularly carry out independent audits to ensure that our partners meet high standards, in line with our expectations”

A spokesperson for Meta, contacted by AFP, guaranteed to take the company’s responsibility seriously towards those who examine its content. “We expect our partners to provide industry-leading salaries, benefits and support. We encourage moderators to speak up about issues when they arise, and we regularly conduct independent audits to ensure our partners are performing to high standards, in line with our expectations,” he said as Meta is reportedly currently reviewing the contracts that bind the platform to its subcontractors.

Post-traumatic stress. This procedure of “Internet cleaners” against Facebook is not a first. In a decision confirmed by American justice last September, the company was ordered to pay 52 million dollars to 11,250 American content moderators. A minimum of 1,000 euros per person was to be paid by May 31, 2022, with additional compensation for victims suffering from more severe disorders.

This complaint is named after a moderator, Selena Scola, who was suing Facebook for a symptom of post-traumatic stress. She was hired in 2016, after the US presidential election when Facebook was the target of criticism for allowing illegal comments to proliferate. During her nine months of experience with the platform, the young woman had regularly viewed videos of rape and murder.

Last November, before parliamentarians from many Western countries, Frances Haugen, ex-Facebook whistleblowerinsisted on the crucial role of moderators speaking the language of the countries in which they work, which is not always the case. The Digital Services Act (DSA), the text that will regulate platforms within the European Union from next year is in line with the words of the American whistleblower. It demands more rigorous moderation from all platforms, with sufficient staff. For some, the challenge will be daunting. For example, last December, Twitter employed 1,867 moderators worldwide.

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Content moderators: at what cost to clean the Internet?

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