NEW CASE: We’re supporting a former content moderator suing TikTok for unfair dismissal and trauma caused by the work
TikTok’s motto is “make every second count”. More than any other social media, on TikTok, form is content. It’s short, sharp bursts of video you can’t look away from. But what if you literally couldn’t – because it was your job to watch the most toxic content posted onto the app every day?
Imagine viewing more than 250 graphic videos of beheadings, animals being dismembered, and child abuse every hour, for eight hours a day. That is the daily reality of work as a TikTok content moderator. Moderators like Mojez.
Foxglove and our Kenyan counsel Mercy Mutemi are supporting Mojez to bring a legal case against TikTok, and their outsourcing company in Kenya, Majorel, to challenge his unfair dismissal as a content moderator and the trauma he was forced to endure as part of the job.
Just like Facebook before them, TikTok outsources its core product – content moderation work – to young African workers in Kenya. Without content moderation, there is no social media because the platforms would be impossible to use. It’s that simple.
It is the job of moderators like Mojez to review and ultimately remove content that violates TikTok’s policies. The pay is poor. It is a relentless and damaging experience that routinely leads to moderators developing PTSD and other mental health illnesses.
Mental health support for TikTok moderators is totally inadequate. Mojez and his colleagues would be offered 30 minutes a day with a “wellness counsellor”. These counsellors were not required to have medical health training and sometimes would be so distressed by the stories moderators would tell them, that they wouldn’t be able to provide any care.
Mojez tried to help his colleagues outside of work hours. An exemplary worker, TikTok named him a “Feel Good Champion” and encouraged him to stay another hour each day, after his own shift had ended, effectively doing the work they failed to hire professional medical staff to perform.
The combined strain of doing the work – as well as helping his colleagues deal with the trauma it caused – left him totally drained and only able to sleep around three hours each night.
However, Mojez did at least feel that the huge amount of work he was doing, paid and unpaid, made him a valued employee who could safely speak up on behalf of his colleagues for better working conditions. Sadly, he was wrong.
In April, Mojez was told his contract wasn’t being renewed with no explanation given as to why. He was eventually told he was fired due to ‘poor performance’. This was despite an excellent performance record.
In response, Mojez pointed to having led the Swahili language content team he worked on to a 14% improvement in their performance rating as assessed by the company.
They then switched tactics, telling him the company had to downsize, even though the original deficit in performance rating Mojez and his fellow moderators managed to turn around was caused by a lack of staff.
Mojez is arguing this dismissal was instead in retaliation to his advocating for better working conditions for himself and his colleagues.
He is calling on both TikTok and Majorel to publicly acknowledge their wrongdoing, hire qualified clinicians to provide mental health care for current and former workers, affirm the right of content moderators to join a union and compensate Mojez and his colleagues for the harm the companies caused.
TikTok isn’t the only big tech company to set up shop in Kenya, outsourcing the content moderation work for vast swathes of the continent to a small, underpaid, and overworked workforce.
Facebook, TikTok, and even Chat GPT, are following the same playbook. The outsourcing model is broken. It treats human beings like rubbish, pushing them through the meatgrinder of content moderation work and then disposing of them when they ask their human rights be recognised.
Foxglove supports every content moderator around the world fighting back against this exploitation. We are extremely proud to be supporting Mojez in his battle for justice.
For keep updated on all the updates on Mojez’s case as they happen, please hit the button below:
Note: in press coverage around this case, Mojez is referred to by another name: ‘James Oyange Odhiambo’. However, he prefers to go by Mojez, which is how we have decided to refer to him in this piece.