Facebook moderators in US, Europe demand an end to stifling NDAs and ‘culture of fear and secrecy’

Facebook content moderators on both sides of the pond are calling on the massive social media platform to “end its culture of fear and secrecy.”

In an open letter to cofounder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg, moderators in the U.S. and Europe are demanding that Facebook discontinue overly restrictive nondisclosure agreements that discourage people from speaking out about working conditions.

The CEOs of Covalen and Accenture were included in the letter — these are the two companies to which Facebook outsources some content moderation.

“We write in response to Facebook’s recent correspondence with moderators in Ireland. We, the undersigned, have serious concerns about Facebook’s approach to our safety and our wellbeing globally,” the letter reads. “Content moderation is at the core of Facebook’s business model. It is crucial to the health and safety of the public square. And yet the company treats us unfairly and our work is unsafe.”

The undersigned list three “demands,” in addition to ending the “culture of fear and secrecy,” the letters states that Facebook “must provide proper mental health support to all its moderators,” and that the company “must bring all content moderators in house.”

The concerns about mental health center on “violent content or children abuse.”

“The mental health support provided to us is woefully inadequate. We need regular, long-term, sustained access to clinical psychiatrists and psychologists. One off phone calls or access to wellness coaches are not enough,” the missive stated. “It is not that the content can “sometimes be hard”, as Facebook describes, the content is psychologically harmful. Imagine watching hours of violent content or children abuse online as part of your day-to-day work. You cannot be left unscathed. This job must not cost us our mental health.”

The moderators dispute Facebook’s stance that content outsourced is not as complex as what inhouse moderators undertake, declaring the outsourced work “is of equal complexity and of equal value to Facebook.”

“Second-class citizenship of outsourced moderators must end today. All content moderators must be brought in house, we should all receive the same pay, benefits, and employment conditions,” they said.

The letter, written in collaboration with the UK nonprofit Foxglove which focuses on tech justice, was signed by 60 moderators in Dublin, Lisbon, and Barcelona, as well as parts of the U.S., The Verve reported. There are also signatures from Warsaw and Essen.

Facebook has been facing pushback from contract content moderators in Ireland. In May, a moderator named Isabella Plunkett testified at a parliamentary committee to try to push for legislative change. according to the website.

“The content that is moderated is awful,” she said. “It would affect anyone … To help, they offer us wellness coaches. These people mean really well, but they are not doctors. They suggest karaoke and painting, but frankly, one does not always feel like singing, after having seen someone be battered to bits.”

Facebook disputed that take in a statement.

“We recognize that reviewing content can be a difficult job, which is why we work with partners who support their employees through training and psychological support when working with challenging content,” a spokesperson said. “In Ireland, this includes 24/7 on-site support with trained practitioners, an on-call service, and access to private healthcare from the first day of employment. We also use technology to limit their exposure to graphic material as much as possible.”

Tom Tillison

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