November 20, 2020
Social media content moderators at Facebook sent an open letter this week to Mark Zuckerberg and their staffing providers. They are seeking the right to work from home on an ongoing basis, be direct employees of Facebook, receive hazard pay and receive healthcare similar to directly employed workers. The letter was posted on Foxglove, a UK-based nonprofit that says its aim is digital justice.
The moderators review potential toxic content, such as child abuse, on the site and work via outsourcing arrangements through Accenture and Cpl, according to the letter.
In their letter, moderators say Facebook has called them back to the office after months of allowing them to work from home. Only moderators who get a doctor’s note about a personal Covid-19 risk may continue to work from home; those who live with an at-risk person are not.
“Without our work, Facebook is unusable. Its empire collapses. Your algorithms cannot spot satire. They cannot sift journalism from disinformation. They cannot respond quickly enough to self-harm or child abuse. We can,” according to the letter. “Facebook needs us. It is time that you acknowledged this and valued our work. To sacrifice our health and safety for profit is immoral.”
However, a Facebook spokesperson told CNBC that a majority of moderators will continue to work from home during the Covid-19 crisis.
“While we believe in having an open internal dialogue, these discussions need to be honest,” the spokesperson told CNBC. “The majority of these 15,000 global content reviewers have been working from home and will continue to do so for the duration of the pandemic.”
The spokesperson continued: “All of them have access to healthcare and confidential wellbeing resources from their first day of employment, and Facebook has exceeded health guidance on keeping facilities safe for any in-office work.”
Demands in the letter included:
- All content moderators who are at high risk or who live with someone at high risk for Covid-19 should be permitted to work from home indefinitely.
- Maximize at-home working. Work that can be done from home should continue to be done from home.
- Offer hazard pay. Moderators who are working in the office on high-risk material such as child abuse should receive paid hazard pay of 1.5 times their usual wage.
- End outsourcing. Content moderators should be brought in-house with moderators getting the same rights and benefits as full Facebook staff.
- Offer real healthcare and psychiatric care. “Facebook employees enjoy various benefits, including private health insurance and visits to psychiatrists. Content moderators, who bear the brunt of the mental health trauma associated with Facebook’s toxic content, are offered 45 minutes a week with a ‘wellness coach’. These ‘coaches’ are generally not psychologists or psychiatrists and are contractually forbidden from diagnosis or treatment.”
The full letter is online. It was addressed to Mark Zuckerberg; Sheryl Sandberg; Anne Heraty, CEO of Cpl; and Julie Sweet, CEO of Accenture.