Update: Facebook moderators fight for fair treatment in Ireland continues

“..some of my colleagues have it even worse – they’re working child abuse and self-harm ‘queues’ all day. A manager told them they should limit their exposure to two hours maximum but that isn’t happening.”

“..to help us cope they offer “wellness coaches”. These people mean well but they’re not doctors. They suggest karaoke or painting – but you don’t always feel like singing, frankly, after you’ve seen someone battered to bits.”

These are just a couple of quotes from the testimony of Isabella, a Facebook content moderator, when she gave evidence to the Irish parliament’s Joint Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment on May 12. It was powerful stuff.

Isabella laid out the three key demands which content moderators in Ireland are making of Facebook and which they are asking Irish parliamentarians to support:

  • End the culture of fear and secrecy at Facebook – prevent them from using “non-disclosure agreements” to stop moderators raising legitimate workplace concerns
  • Provide proper and meaningful psychiatric health support – one and half hours of wellness each week isn’t enough to make this work safe. 
  • Stop outsourcing – make the big social media firms bring moderation in-house and give moderators the rights they deserve as employees

Foxglove’s Cori Crider also joined the meeting and lent her support to Isabella by sharing her perspective on what needs to change, as a lawyer working on these issues globally. 

Hundreds of Foxglove supporters helped Isabella too – completing a survey on their views about content moderators which helped prove to politicians that the public want them to act. It was a powerful set of survey results and we followed up by sending the committee a detailed report.

A week later, on May 19, Ireland’s Tánaiste (Deputy Prime Minister) Leo Varadkar, appeared before the same committee. He had written to Facebook in February raising concerns following his meeting with Foxglove and two content moderators.

In advance of Mr Varadkar’s appearance, Facebook sent a reply. Disappointingly, but not altogether unsurprisingly, they continued to refuse to accept the need for any substantial reform to the working conditions of content moderators – despite hundreds of workers demanding otherwise.

We took issue with two claims made by Facebook in their letter.

Facebook conceded that moderators do have to sign NDAs but claimed that these cover only “user data and personal information”. The content moderators we work with tell us this is untrue and the NDAs are much wider in scope.

Facebook also claimed that it has “a dedicated team of clinical and counselling psychologists”. That is true, but sadly irrelevant, as they’re not available to the outsourced Facebook content moderators who are employed by companies such as Covalen where Isabella works. 

We were encouraged by Mr Varadkar’s statements to the committee.

He said clearly that outsourced Facebook moderators, employed by companies like Covalen, should be offered the same quality of psychological support as those employed directly by Facebook. He added that he was not willing to take Facebook’s claims about the limited scope of their NDAs on trust and had requested to see a copy for himself.

Facebook’s letter to the Tánaiste was the first occasion we are aware of, anywhere in the world, where the company has been forced to engage with parliamentarians regarding their treatment of content moderators.

The efforts of content moderators in Ireland, supported by Foxglove, are putting Facebook under unprecedented scrutiny. We are hoping that the next step will be for a Facebook representative to be obliged to appear in person before the Joint Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment.

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