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Facebook to pay $52M to content moderators forced to 'regularly' watch videos of rape, murder and suicide

The social media giant was sued by a former moderator who developed PTSD within months of joining work
UPDATED MAY 13, 2020
Mark Zuckerberg (Getty Images)
Mark Zuckerberg (Getty Images)

Social media giant Facebook has agreed to pay a settlement worth $52 million to thousands of moderators who have been diagnosed with mental conditions while assisting the platform to filter disturbing content. Last Friday, May 8, a preliminary settlement was filed in San Mateo Superior Court whereby Facebook agreed to compensate more than 11,000 US-based moderators -- current and former -- with each receiving a minimum of $1000. 

According to The Verge which has reported the story, some of these moderators who have developed Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or any similar condition will be eligible to get additional compensation ranging between $1,500 and $6,000 to help them bear the expenses of the treatment if required. Besides, moderators who have the above-mentioned diagnosis and can produce proof of injuries they suffered while reviewing posts showing acts of suicide, murder, child abuse, and other such content for Facebook could claim up to $50,000.

As part of the agreement, Facebook also decided to provide mental health support and counseling to moderators who are still employed under the social media network, including staff members or third-party contractors. The company also decided to change its content moderation tools so that the impact of viewing harmful images and videos is reduced. The tools that will automatically mutate the videos and change the images into black and white will be made accessible to 80 percent of the moderators by the end of 2020 and cent percent by early 2021.

The moderators who view the graphic content daily will also be given weekly one-on-one counseling sessions with a certified mental health professional. Those facing a mental health crisis will get to meet a licensed counselor within a day. 

Facebook says it will also make monthly group sessions available to all of its moderators. “We are so pleased that Facebook worked with us to create an unprecedented program to help people performing work that was unimaginable even a few years ago,” The Verge quoted Steve Williams, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, as saying in a statement. “The harm that can be suffered from this work is real and severe.”

“We are grateful to the people who do this important work to make Facebook a safe environment for everyone,” a statement from Facebook said. “We’re committed to providing them additional support through this settlement and in the future.”

Former FB moderator sued company in 2018

Former Facebook moderator Selena Scola sued Facebook in September 2018 alleging that she was diagnosed with PTSD after she was assigned the role of viewing photos and images of rape, murder and suicide regularly, The New York Times reported. Scola, who developed the mental ailment in just nine months into the job, was one of the many moderators who were hired after the 2016 presidential election when Facebook was criticized for not removing harmful content from the platform.

Facebook even hired several big consulting firms like Accenture, Cognizant, Genpact etc to rope in thousands of contractors in the US to do the work.

Scola’s complaint found support from other Facebook moderators in four states later and that all accused the social media giant of having failed to provide them with safety against professional hazards. 

In 2019, The Verge came to learn that moderators hired through Cognizant faced tough working conditions in Phoenix and Tampa. For an annual salary of around $29,000, the moderators were operating in a high-stake environment that required near-perfect accuracy in navigating Facebook’s ever-transforming content policies besides being exposed to imagery that could haunt them in dreams. 

Mark Zuckerberg understood the seriousness in times of the pandemic

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was initially untouched by the moderators’ pain and he dismissed their mental health conditions as “a little over dramatic” during an interactive session last year. But his stand changed later and in March this year, he voiced concern over the potential impact that shutting down of Facebook’s offices amid the pandemic could have on the workers who are forced to filter the content while in isolation. 

'It is emotionally challenging for our moderators,' Zuckerberg said at a press conference. 'In the office we have built up mental health support, resiliency training and force people to take breaks to get time to recover. Now we can't set the guidelines on how they work since they are working from home.'

Facebook's pandemic-time shutdown began at its Seattle headquarters on March 5 after a contractor there tested positive.