Facebook content moderators demand an end to NDAs that prevent them from talking about working conditions
Facebook’s content moderators are demanding that the social media giant end what they call a “culture of fear and secrecy” that includes restrictive NDAs and “satisfyingly inadequate” mental health care for employees who watch hundreds of horrific videos every day.
Moderators around the world wrote an open letter with their grievances to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg.
The letter also mentions Covalen CEO Anne Heraty and Accenture CEO Julie Sweet. Covalen and Accenture are two companies to which Facebook outsources some of its content moderators.
So far, 60 employees from Warsaw, Essen, Dublin, Lisbon, Barcelona and parts of the US have signed the letter, which was written in collaboration with Foxglove, a London-based non-profit organization that focuses on technical issues.
Moderators around the world wrote a letter with their grievances to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, left, and COO Sheryl Sandberg, right
The letter reads: “Content moderation is at the heart of Facebook’s business model. It is crucial for the health and safety of the public square. And yet the company treats us unfairly and our work is unsafe. Today we write to demand change.’
The moderators break down their three main demands and the first is for the tech giant to stop requiring employees to sign restrictive NDAs that prevent them from talking about their work to even those in their family.
It reads, “Despite the company’s best efforts to keep us quiet, we are writing to demand that the company’s culture of fear and excessive secrecy end today.” No NDA can legally prevent us from speaking out about our working conditions.’
Next, the letter asks that Facebook provide its employees with adequate mental health resources.
“We need regular, long-term and sustained access to clinical psychiatrists and psychologists,” the letter explains.
“One-time phone calls or access to wellness coaches are not enough. It’s not that the content can be “hard at times” as Facebook describes, the content is psychologically harmful. Imagine spending hours watching violent content or online child abuse as part of your day-to-day job.
“You can’t be unharmed. This job shouldn’t cost us our sanity.’
Also listed in the letter were Covalen CEO Anne Heraty (left), and Accenture CEO Julie Sweet (right). Covalen and Accenture are two Ireland-based companies whose Facebook outsources some of its content moderators
Finally, the moderators want to be added to the official staff of the company. Currently, they work for outside companies such as Covalen and Accenture and do not receive the same pay, benefits or conditions as internal Facebook employees.
The letter reads: “The work that outsourced content moderators undertake is equally complex and of equal value to Facebook. The second-class citizenship of outsourced moderators must end today. All content moderators should be brought in, we should all get the same pay, benefits and working conditions.’
The letter comes two months after Isabella Plunkett, an Ireland-based moderator at Covalen, testified for legislative changes before the Irish Parliament’s Committee on Business, Trade and Employment.
In a livestream of the hearing, she said: “I was excited to work for Facebook, you think it’s a smart career move and you’d be part of the new economy until you realize the cost to you personally.” .’
She cites a “climate of fear” invoked by the NDAs and says: “Facebook profiles itself as a progressive company. There are slogans on the walls like be brave and be brave. How can we be brave when your right to speak is constantly undermined?’
She moves on to the mental health aspect, citing graphic videos of beatings, child abuse and rape that she and her colleagues must watch as part of their job to highlight what is and is not allowed on the site.
The letter comes two months after Isabella Plunkett, an Ireland-based moderator at Covalen, testified before the Irish parliament for amendment of the law.
She says: ‘The content is terrible. It would affect everyone. It finally started to hit me and I have terrible lucid dreams about all the things I’ve seen and I’ve been taking antidepressants for months because of this content.’
Plunkett refers to the mental health services the company offers, which include wellness coaches who she says mean very well, but are not doctors. They suggest karaoke and painting, but sometimes you don’t always feel like singing freely after seeing someone assault you.’
The company also offers on-site support with a medical professional, but, says Plunkett, “I was referred to the company doctor once and was supposed to hear about a follow-up appointment, but haven’t heard anything since.”
Foxglove CEO Cori Crider told VICE News in May, “What you’ve seen is more than 15 years of self-regulation by Facebook. You haven’t actually had regulation of something at least as big and as important as broadcast media. And it’s been shown not to work, not just for the conditions of this workforce, but frankly for the health of the public square as a whole.”
The Daily Mail contacted Facebook, but did not immediately hear back.
In a statement sent to the Verge, the company allayed the moderators’ concerns. “We recognize that reviewing content can be a difficult task, so we work with partners who support their employees through training and psychological support when working with challenging content.
“In Ireland, this includes 24/7 on-site support with trained practitioners, on-call duty and access to private healthcare from day one. We also use technology to limit their exposure to graphic material as much as possible.’