What’s a blue-chip consulting firm like Accenture got to do with racist memes targeting footballers or self-harm on Instagram?
The New York Times has published an in-depth front page report – quoting our own Cori Crider and a bunch of Foxglove’s partners – digging into one of Facebook’s chief outsourcers for content moderation: Accenture.
We’ve said it before: without moderators, social media can’t exist. Our public square – and Zuckerberg’s $100 billion fortune – stands on these people’s backs.
And as the Times exposes, you also can’t have Facebook as we know it without outsourcing firms absorbing its dirty work. Enablers like Accenture let Facebook pretend its nose is clean – and leave the gruelling, painful and hazardous work of content moderation to someone else.
The report is full of jaw-dropping detail about the reality of working life in Mark Zuckerberg’s digital sweatshop floors, and is worth reading in full, but here are some particularly shocking snippets.
Accenture nearly pulled out. Accenture considered backing out of its contract with Facebook two years ago because of the amount of flack it was getting from being associated with the business of content moderation.
But money talks. Especially $500 million. CEO Julie Sweet ordered a review into whether the ethical and reputational risks to the company were worth it. But the $500m contract from Facebook, which Accenture refers to as a “diamond client”, kept them on board.
For every dollar they pay a moderator, Accenture makes nearly three. Not only does the NYT report reveal the staggering amount of money involved in that contract but also that, per hour, each content moderator makes Accenture around $50 dollars. In return, they’re paid around $18.
People are exposed to trauma with little screening and poor care. The report details the hopeless system to treat mental health at Accenture: “wellness coaches.”
A ‘“wellness coach” is Facebook NewSpeak for someone who isn’t a medical doctor, but is meant to look after moderators anyway. Under their contract, “wellness coaches” can’t diagnose PTSD and can’t treat it. All they can do is tell workers to try things like deep breathing to cope.
This doesn’t work, and Accenture know it. They made moderators sign a form that says it might not protect them from PTSD.
A former wellness coach working in Accenture’s Warsaw office in Poland, Izabela Dziugiel, tried to explain to her bosses that they were hiring vulnerable people who couldn’t handle their workload – like grim Syrian war footage. Izabela is the first wellness coach to go on the record, as far as we know, and we’re proud to have worked with her.
Cut-rate mental health care is risking lives. The “wellness coach” system is broken, and workers pay the price. One worker in Dublin left a suicide note at his desk but was thankfully later found alive. We know the wellness coach who witnessed this incident – they told us that on the day this poor person walked out, Accenture executives seemed to care about liability – not their own employee.
All of a sudden, Accenture’s CEO wants to talk to workers. The head of Accenture, Julie Sweet – previously the kind of tech executive who enjoyed glowing profiles in, you guessed it, the New York Times – is on the defensive.
At the weekend, and in response to the Times splash, Sweet sent a staff-wide email to moderators telling them their work was “challenging” (as if they didn’t know!) and inviting them to an all-staff Q and A. Thanks, Julie – but moderators want real improvements, not vague sentiments that belong in a corporate greeting card.
We’re pushing for change. We and our allies put hours into this Times exposé – and we’re not finished. Moderators are among the most vital and undervalued workers in the Big Tech economy. Ever look at social media and wonder why it’s such a mess? Part of the problem is Facebook’s dirty supply chain. The era of underpaid, outsourced and unhealthy moderation work has to end.
It’s time to clean up social media’s factory floor. We’re teaming up with workers for another push. Hit the button below to sign up to our mailing list for updates about our work fighting for fair working conditions for content moderators globally.
And to every source, named and anonymous, who worked with us to make this piece possible – thank you.