Facebook Moderators Feel Emotional Impact of Work

From PTSD caused by a steady diet of viewing violent videos to prolonged exposure to conspiracy theories that makes them question reality, contract content viewers who moderate posts on Facebook are suffering the consequences of their work, according to a story in The Verge that has captured attention from The New York Times.

Illustration from The Verge. (Corey Brickley)

With the headline, “The Trauma Floor,” the story reveals how far-reaching the effects of the mind-bending work has had on employees at Cognizant, the contract employer who hires moderators for salaries of $28,800 per year. Compare that to the average Facebook employee salary of $240,000 per year for far less stressful work. Previously, Facebook contracted moderation outside of the country. Wired wrote a lengthy story on the effects of moderation on those employees in 2014. Facebook added American employees to better moderate the subtleties of U.S. content, bringing the company’s total number of moderators to 15,000. Outside firms in California, Arizona, Texas and Florida hire the low-paid workers.

“It’s a place where, in stark contrast to the perks lavished on Facebook employees, team leaders micromanage content moderators’ every bathroom and prayer break; where employees, desperate for a dopamine rush amid the misery, have been found having sex inside stairwells and a room reserved for lactating mothers; where people develop severe anxiety while still in training, and continue to struggle with trauma symptoms long after they leave; and where the counseling that Cognizant offers them ends the moment they quit — or are simply let go.”

Starting with the impact of training, relating how a young woman employee reacts to a man being stabbed to death, the story outlines the horror of a job that shows the worst of humanity to young people who are typically just out of college, working in their first jobs. Because a lot of content is American-based, the moderators were also needed to understand cultural norms in the United States, according to a Cognizant manager interviewed for the story. Working conditions are strict, with few breaks and a lack of bathroom facilities, forcing workers to wait in long lines during their brief minutes away from computers.

According to The Verge story, other stresses of the job include constantly changing “community standards” and the barrage of horrifying content. Deciding on whether to take content down or not poses unique challenges:

“During breaking news events, such as a mass shooting, moderators will try to reach a consensus on whether a graphic image meets the criteria to be deleted or marked as disturbing. But sometimes they reach the wrong consensus, moderators said, and managers have to walk the floor explaining the correct decision.”

Facebook prefers the system of outsourcing the work because it protects the company’s profits. It recently raked in $16.9 billion, of which $6.9 billion were profits, according to The New York Times.