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Facebook content moderators demand end to NDAs that stop them speaking about work conditions

Facebook content moderators are demanding that the social media giant end what they call a ‘culture of fear and secrecy’ that includes restrictive NDAs and ‘woefully inadequate’ mental health resources for employees that view hundreds of gruesome videos each day.

Moderators across the globe wrote an open letter detailing their grievances to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg.

Also mentioned in the letter were the CEO of Covalen, Anne Heraty, and the CEO of Accenture, 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 U.S. have signed the letter, which was written in collaboration with Foxglove, a London-based nonprofit focused on tech issues.

The letter, signed by 60 employees from across the globe, is also addressed to COO Sheryl Sandberg

Moderators across the globe wrote a letter detailing their grievances to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, left, and  COO Sheryl Sandberg, right

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. Today, we write to demand change.’

The moderators break down their three main demands and the first is that the tech giant 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 write to demand the company’s culture of fear and excessive secrecy ends today. No NDA can lawfully prevent us from speaking out about our working conditions.’ 

Next, the letter asks that Facebook provide adequate mental health resources to its employees.

‘We need regular, long-term, sustained access to clinical psychiatrists and psychologists, the letter explains.

‘One-off phone calls or access to wellness coaches are not enough. 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.’ 

Also mentioned in the letter was Anne Heraty, the CEO of Covalen - a company to which Facebook outsources some of its content moderators

Also mentioned in the letter was Julie Sweet, the CEO of Covalen which is a company to which Facebook outsources some of its content moderators

Also mentioned in the letter were the CEO of Covalen, Anne Heraty (left), and the CEO of Accenture, Julie Sweet (right). Covalen and Accenture are two Ireland-based companies from which Facebook outsources some of its content moderators

Finally, the moderators wish to be added to the company’s official staff. Currently, they work for outsider companies like Covalen and Accenture and don’t receive the same pay, benefits or conditions as in-house Facebook staff.

The letter says, ‘The work outsourced content moderators undertake 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.’

The letter comes two months after Isabella Plunkett, an Ireland-based moderator with Covalen, testified for legislative change before the Irish Parliament’s Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment.

In a livestream from the hearing, she says, ‘I was excited to work for Facebook, you think it’s a smart career move and that you would be part of the new economy, until you realize what the costs will be to you personally.’

She mentions a ‘climate of fear’ invoked by the NDAs and says, ‘Facebook presents itself as a progressive company. There are slogans on the walls like be bold and be brave. How can we be brave when your right to speak is consistently undermined?’

She moves on to the mental health aspect, referencing graphics videos of beatings, child abuse and rape that she and her colleagues have to watch as part of their job flagging what can and can’t go on the site.

The letter comes two months after Isabella Plunkett, an Ireland-based moderator with Covalen, testified for legislative change before the Irish Parliament

The letter comes two months after Isabella Plunkett, an Ireland-based moderator with Covalen, testified for legislative change before the Irish Parliament

She says, ‘The content is awful. It would affect anyone. It finally started to get to me and I have horrible lucid dreams about all the things I’ve seen and for months I’ve been taking antidepressants because of this content.’

Plunkett references the mental health services the company offers, which includes wellness coaches that she says, ‘mean really well, but they are not doctors. They suggest karaoke and painting, but sometime you don’t always feel like singing frankly after you’ve seen someone be battered to bits.’

The company also offers on-site support with a medical professional but, Plunkett says, ‘I was referred to the company doctor once and I was supposed to hear about a follow-up appointment, but I have not heard anything since.’

Cori Crider, the director of Foxglove, said to VICE News in May, ‘What you’ve seen now is 15-plus years of self-regulation by Facebook. You’ve basically had no regulation of something that is 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 reached out to Facebook, but did not hear back immediately. 

In a statement sent to the Verge, the company addressed the moderators’ concerns. ‘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. 

‘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.’


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