Facebook’s Top-Secret Content Moderators Smoke Marijuana to ‘Numb Their Emotions,’ Report Says

It’s impossible to “not come out of it with some acute stress disorder or PTSD” a former moderator tells The Verge

Facebook moderators, shaken by their daily exposure to racist posts, sexually-explicit content and videos of people being murdered, turn to having sex with their co-workers and smoking marijuana on their breaks to “numb the pain,” according to a lengthy report that The Verge published on Monday.

The piece offers an in-depth look at the company’s Phoenix office where 1,000 contracted moderators, ran by a vendor called Cognizant, grapple with the worst that the social network has to offer. Current and former employees have developed “PTSD-like symptoms,” according to The Verge, by spending their days sleuthing Facebook. Some employees joke about “drinking to forget” what they’ve seen and smoked marijuana during breaks.

Cognizant moderators are paid a fraction of what the average Facebook employee makes — about $29,000 compared to $240,000  — and can be fired if they make a “handful of errors a week.” Fired employees have threatened to come back to the office and hurt their former co-workers, something that drove Randy, a former Cognizant moderator, to bring a gun to work to protect himself.

“I’m f—-d up, man,” Randy told The Verge. “My mental health — it’s just so up and down. One day I can be really happy, and doing really good. The next day, I’m more or less of a zombie. It’s not that I’m depressed. I’m just stuck.”

Randy added he doesn’t “think it’s possible to do the job and not come out of it with some acute stress disorder or PTSD.”

In a blog post on Monday, Facebook defended its work with vendors like Cognizant. The company said it makes regular site visits to check if its workers are provided mandatory “wellness breaks” and other measures are taken to protect mental wellbeing. Following The Verge’s report, Facebook said it’ll be taking more steps to protect its moderators.

“We are putting in place a rigorous and regular compliance and audit process for all of our outsourced partners to ensure they are complying with the contracts and care we expect,” Facebook said in its post. “This will include even more regular and comprehensive focus groups with vendor employees than we do today.”

A Cognizant spokesperson said the company has “investigated the specific workplace issues” raised by The Verge and “previously taken action where necessary. The spokesperson added the company has “steps in place to continue to address” the issues raised.

“In addition to offering a comprehensive wellness program at Cognizant, including a safe and supportive work culture, 24×7 phone support and onsite counselor support to employees, Cognizant has partnered with leading HR and Wellness consultants to develop the next generation of wellness practices,” the spokesperson said.

Wired writer Antonio Garcia Martinez — a former Facebook employee — said no matter what the company does, whether it’s moderating content or taking a hands-off approach, “there’ll be a loud mob complaining the whole way.”

The “same [Facebook] critics who call on the company to take on responsibility for moderating content (an operational job they don’t want, and had to be pressed to perform), will of course be shocked, shocked at the human cost in reviewing billions of pieces of random content,” Martinez tweeted.

The Verge’s report seemed to have little significance on Wall Street, with Facebook shares trading up 2.4 percent on Monday to $165. 75 per share.