Yesterday, The Verge published a gut-wrenching investigative report about the terrible working conditions of Facebook moderators at one of its contract vendor sites in North America – Tampa. Facebook’s content moderation site in Tampa, Florida, is operated by the professional services firm Cognizant. It is one of the lowest-performing sites in North America and has never consistently enforced Facebook’s policies with 98 percent accuracy, as per Cognizant’s contract.
In February, The Verge had published a similar report on the deplorable working conditions of content moderators who work at Facebook’s Arizona site. Both the reports are investigated and written by an acclaimed tech reporter, Casey Newton.
But yesterday’s article is based on the investigation performed by interviewing 12 current and former moderators and managers at the Tampa site. In most cases, pseudonyms are used to protect employees from potential retaliation from Facebook and Cognizant. But for the first time, three former moderators for Facebook agreed to break their nondisclosure agreements and discuss working conditions at the site on the record.
At some big tech companies, more than half the workforce is already contractors. NDAs typically prevent all but the worst stories from coming out.
My thanks to Shawn Speagle, Michelle Bennetti, and Melynda Johnson for having the courage to share their experiences.
— Casey Newton (@CaseyNewton) June 19, 2019
The working conditions for the content moderators are filled with filth and stress. To an extent that one of them is being reported dead due to such an emotional trauma that the moderators go through everyday. Keith Utley, was a lieutenant commander in the military and after his retirement he chose to work as Facebook moderator at the Tampa site.
Today, three former Facebook content moderators are going on the record to talk about working conditions at their site in Tampa, FL.
Their office was filthy, and their work was grim. Last year, a moderator had a heart attack at his desk and died https://t.co/bo60lFKmtC
— Casey Newton (@CaseyNewton) June 19, 2019
Keith worked the overnight shift and he moderated the worst stuff posted by users on daily basis on Facebook including the the hate speech, the murders, the child pornography. Utley had a heart attack at his desk and died last year. Senior management initially discouraged employees from discussing the incident and tried hiding the fact that Keith died, for fear it would hurt productivity. But Keith’s father visited the site to collect his belongings and broke emotionally and said, “My son died here”.
The moderators further mention that the Tampa site has only one bathroom for all the 800 employees working at the site. And repeatedly the bathroom is found smeared with feces and menstrual blood.
The office coordinators did not even care about cleaning the site and it was infested with bed bugs. Workers also found fingernails and pubic hair on their desk. “Bed bugs can be found virtually every place people tend to gather, including the workplace,” Cognizant said in a statement. “No associate at this facility has formally asked the company to treat an infestation in their home. If someone did make such a request, management would work with them to find a solution.”
There are instances of sexual harassment as well at the work place and workers have filed two such cases since April. They are now before the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Often there are cases of physical and verbal fights in the office and instances of things stolen from the office premises was common.
One of the former moderators bluntly said to The Verge reporter that if anything needs change. It is only one thing that Facebook needs to shut down.
Former Facebook content moderator, when asked how to fix the site: "It needs to shut down."https://t.co/6BrpdP7YhP
— Guided By Volcels (@jephjacques) June 19, 2019
There are many significant voices added to the shout of breaking Facebook, one of them includes Elizabeth Warren, US Presidential candidate for 2020, who wants to break the big tech. Another one comes from Chris Hughes, one of the founders of Facebook who published an op-ed on why he thinks it’s time to break Facebook.
In response to this investigation, Facebook spokesperson, Chris Harrison says they will conduct an audit of its partner sites and make other changes to promote the well-being of its contractors. He said the company would consider making more moderators full-time employees in the future, and hope to provide counseling for moderators after they leave.
This news garnered public anger and rage towards Facebook, people have commented that Facebook defecates on humanity and profits enormously while getting away with it easily.
Facebook defecates on humanity, profits enormously and gets away with it. Zuck well on his way to a special place in history.
— Peter Mullen 🏎 (@pemullen) June 19, 2019
Another one reads that Facebook’s mission of connecting the world has been an abject failure and the world is worse off from being connected in the ways Facebook has done it. Additionally there are comments on how this story comes in as a reminder of how little these big tech firms care about people.
Today’s “Why haven’t you deleted Facebook yet?” Has been brought to you by:@CaseyNewton
Although I think all big tech firms are guilty of vendor abuse, this is an extenuating circumstance and a stark reminder as to just how little these companies actually care about people. https://t.co/AeUByobh3j
— Mitchel Lewis👨🏻💻 (@stautistic) June 19, 2019
Author of the book Antisocial Media and a columnist at Guardian, Siva Vaidhyanathan, applauds Casey Newton, The Verge reporter for bringing up this story. But he also mentions that Casey has ignored the work of Sarah T. Roberts who had written an entire book on this topic called, Behind the Screens.
This has become something of a pattern for @CaseyNewton — one of the best and most influential tech writers in the country. He consistently ignores books by women that cover the same issues he explores in his work. Last month it was @safiyanoble
— Siva Vaidhyanathan🗽🤘🏽 (@sivavaid) June 19, 2019
Check out the full story covered by The Verge on their official blog post.