Sama’s response to TIME’s exposé on Facebook moderators: copy-and-paste corporate jargon and a load of non-denials
Last week, Foxglove was proud to stand with Daniel Motaung – a brave man who helped over a hundred of his colleagues at Facebook’s chief African content moderation office in Nairobi, Kenya, stand up to exploitation. (And we were thrilled to see him on the cover of Time – moderators, Facebook’s most important workers, seldom get this kind of exposure.)
For his efforts to improve the lives and working conditions of his fellow moderators, Daniel was sacked by Facebook’s local outsourcing company Sama and forced to leave the country. With our partners Katiba Institute, we’re gearing up for legal action.
The situation that led Daniel and his co-workers to move towards a strike was revealed in TIME’s report on exploitation, poor pay and union-busting at Sama’s Nairobi office.
It’s a damning read for an “ethical AI” firm – who just raised $70 million in an investment round on the back of its “ethical” reputation.
So like clockwork, toward the end of last week came Sama’s corporate response.
Funny thing is, in a 1,200+ word post entitled “What Time Got Wrong,” there are basically zero denials of Daniel Motaung’s charges: that he and over a hundred employees organised themselves to complain about conditions, and that he was promptly sacked, with San Francisco executives flying over to participate in his termination, to be sure a budding organiser couldn’t jeopardize their lucrative relationship with their all-important “client” – Facebook.
To all of that, Sama offers eight words: “to be clear, there was never a strike”. Which is… exactly what TIME’s piece says:
“Workers say Sama has also suppressed their efforts to secure better working conditions. In the summer of 2019, content moderators threatened to strike within seven days unless they were given better pay and working conditions.
“Instead of negotiating, Sama responded by flying two highly-paid executives from San Francisco to Nairobi to deal with the uprising. Within weeks Daniel Motaung, the attempted strike’s leader who was in the process of formally filing trade union papers, had been fired—accused by Sama of taking action that would put the relationship between the company and Facebook at “great risk.
“Sama told other participants in the labor action effort that they were expendable and said they should either resign or get back to work, several employees told TIME. The workers stood down before the seven days were up, and there was no pay increase.”
So that’s right, there was no strike – because it was crushed. All because people were asking for better conditions and a pay rise – some Kenyans from a baseline of under $1.50 an hour.
It’s not clear why Sama thinks those eight words are a rebuttal – but they’re probably hoping the public, their investors, and “The Client” Facebook move on from TIME’s cover story.
We can’t let that happen. Facebook’s whole business model depends on pretending repeated messes like this aren’t its problem. Like we told TIME: “Outsourcing is a scam that lets Facebook rake in billions while pretending worker exploitation and union-busting is somebody else’s fault.” Sama fired Daniel but Facebook sets the system of work. And workers have had it.
We’ve spent over two years (check the links below) lifting the lid on this scam and helping moderators speak out. We’re just getting started, but the real goal is to force Facebook to stop expoliting its most critical workforce: content moderators. You can’t have safe social media if the moderators are unsafe themselves.
Help us out by clicking below to sign our open letter to Mark Zuckerberg, telling him to stop exploiting content moderators like Daniel, in Kenya and everywhere else too.
(Thanks to Signals Network and Katiba Institute for supporting Daniel in the run-up to publication, with other partners on the legal side to be announced soon…!)