Back to court: Kenya Facebook content moderators settlement talks collapse

Settlement talks between Facebook owner Meta, outsourcing company Sama and 184 social media content moderators, who are fighting their unlawful mass layoff, have collapsed.

You may have noticed we’ve not said much publicly about this case. There’s a reason for that.

At the time the mediation began, in August, the moderators had not been paid for four months. That took a terrible toll on them, with no money coming in for such a long time. One moderator felt so desperate he attempted suicide by throwing himself off of his apartment.

Those are the stakes. So when a Kenyan judge asked both sides to attempt to find an out-of-court settlement the moderators engaged in good faith.

To give that mediation process the best chance of succeeding, Foxglove, Kenyan counsel Mercy Mutemi and the moderators didn’t talk to the media, or to say anything publicly about it, until the process had concluded. 

Unfortunately, it seems that this good faith was not reciprocated by Meta and Sama. Here’s what Mercy told the court on Monday, in her update about the settlement talks:

“The respondents were buying time and not being genuine. We kept waiting for them to participate, especially the first and second respondents [Meta] only for them to keep asking for an extension of time and then come back every time to refuse to take accountability.  

“The petitioners [the moderators] gave it their best effort. They attended every mediation. The respondents asked for information which we gave them. They kept saying they would get back to us by a certain date but only got back to us at the end of last week with a very small amount that cannot even take care of the petitioners’ mental health. […]  

“As long as the respondents are serious in engaging, we are happy to engage. I think the problem comes when the respondents are not being honest or forthcoming with information. If they are willing to seriously engage then we are always happy to continue.”  

In addition to the money Meta and Sama owe them, the moderators are seeking improvements to the working conditions of Facebook Content Moderators based in Kenya. 

Specifically, they want Meta to uphold their right to speak out about poor conditions and to join a trade union to ask for better working conditions. They also want Meta to bring in a system of mental health support in content moderation offices in Kenya identical to the one provided to employees at their Menlo Park and Dublin HQs.  

The moderators informed the court that Meta and Sama made very little attempt to address these core issues either.

Back to court

So now – we’re going back to court.

Meta and Sama have failed to obey two court orders stating they must pay moderators’ wages until the lawsuit is concluded. It’s way past time for them to pay up. 

So we will be asking the court to find them in contempt of court at a hearing to be held in-person in Nairobi on October 31. We hope this will force Meta and Sama to finally obey the court orders.

There’s one final detail you need to know. Way back in January when the unlawful layoffs of the moderators was announced, they brought in another outsourcing company, Majorel. 

At Monday’s hearing, Majorel’s counsel announced they were making all their moderators redundant as well. We know that social media cannot function without content moderation.

That poses the question: if the Sama moderators aren’t moderating Facebook in Kenya – and the Majorel moderators aren’t doing it anymore either – then who is? 

The Nairobi content moderation office covers an area if around 500 million people. That’s a vast area which requires extensive content moderation for social media to operate. So what gives?

We can only conclude that Meta has now chosen a different, secret supplier for content moderation instead of Majorel (who are part of the case of the 184 moderators).

Choosing a supplier not currently before a Kenyan court to provide Facebook content moderation services in this region is an obvious effort to evade the jurisdiction of the court and the clear meaning of its orders. 

Foxglove supporters have helped make this case possible, by donating and signing petitions – thank you. For all the news on this case as it comes in, make sure to hit the button below.