Facebook Moderators Suffer ‘Sweatshop’ Work Conditions, Ex-Employee Says

Social network’s contracted mods describe a filthy workplace compounded by sexual harassment and threats of violence

Last Updated: June 19, 2019 @ 10:58 AM

Facebook’s contracted content moderators in Tampa, Florida work in anxiety-inducing and disgusting conditions, according to a Wednesday report from The Verge, with one former employee calling the office a “sweatshop in America.”

Several former moderators said they’ve been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder from the job, which includes policing videos depicting violence against people and animals. Compounding matters, employees describe an anarchic office where one worker that threatened to “shoot up the building” was able to return to work after being put on paid leave. (He was later fired for making another threat.) In April, two female employees filed sexual harassment complaints against two male co-workers for discussing anal sex while on the clock.

Others described a filthy workplace where pubic hair and other bodily waste are found at desks. One female worker’s colostomy bag ruptured and spilled everywhere on the floor — something that led the woman to ultimately quit after being mocked by her managers.

“Every bit of that building was absolutely disgusting,” Melynda Johnson, a former moderator, told The Verge. “You’d go in the bathroom and there would be period blood and poop all over the place. It smelled horrendous all the time.”

The office, run by a service vendor named Cognizant, has the undignified designation as Facebook’s “worst” moderation operation in North America, hitting its “accuracy” target only 92% of the time; Facebook aims for a 98% clip.

The workers are paid $15 per hour — or about 80% more than Florida’s $8.46 minimum wage — but many said the job’s relatively strong wage was outweighed by the revolting conditions and terrible things they had to see on a daily basis.

Shawn Speagle, who started as a moderator at age 23 in mid-2018, recalled the first video he reviewed showed two teenagers beating “the living s—” out of an iguana. The video was allowed to stay on Facebook, he said, after a manager explained it would make it easier for authorities to catch the abusers.

“They kept reposting it again and again and again,” Speagle told The Verge. “It made me so angry. I had to listen to its screams all day.”

He later described the “mass panic” around videos supposedly showing organs being harvested from children — something that was later debunked. Moderators were “freaking out,” Speagle said, as they tried to police the videos.

“They couldn’t handle it. People were crying, breaking down, throwing up,” he said. “It was like one of those horror movies. Nobody’s prepared to see a little girl have her organs taken out while she’s still alive and screaming.”

A Facebook spokesperson told TheWrap its takes the mental wellbeing of its contractors seriously and offers on-site counseling, but did not push back against The Verge’s report.

“We work with our content review partners to provide a level of support and compensation that leads the industry,” the spokesperson said. “There will inevitably be employee challenges or dissatisfaction that call our commitment to this work and our partners’ employees into question. When the circumstances warrant action on the part of management, we make sure it happens.”

“For our associates who opt to work in content moderation, we are transparent about the work they will perform,” a Cognizant spokesman told The Verge. “They are made aware of the nature of the role before and during the hiring process, and then given extensive and specific training before working on projects.”

The dreadful work conditions are something attorney K.C. Hopkinson said he wouldn’t wish on his worst enemy. “It’s a terrible, terrible environment.”

To read the full report, click here.