Facebook responds to report that many content moderators suffer from PTSD

Facebook responds to report that many content moderators suffer from PTSD
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Facebook in a blog post on Monday affirmed its "commitment" to the workers who moderate the platform's content after a report found many of them suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), drug abuse and anxiety. 

The post began by acknowledging "questions, misunderstandings and accusations around Facebook's content review processes," a likely reference to an investigation by The Verge published earlier Monday. 

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"We want to continue to hear from our content reviewers, our partners and even the media — who hold us accountable and give us the opportunity to improve," the company wrote. 

The Verge interviewed a dozen current and former Facebook content reviewers in Phoenix, all of whom are third-party contractors with a vendor called Cognizant. Cognizant runs a content moderation site for Facebook that employs around 1,000 people in Arizona. 

The contractors described oppressive working conditions, with limited breaks and heavy scrutiny, and a job with an intense emotional toll. Content reviewers are asked to look through hundreds of posts per day, including images and videos of graphic violence, sexual exploitation, hate speech and harassment, in order to flag and take down posts that violate Facebook's complex guidelines.

Facebook has brought on thousands of reviewers in the past several years amid criticism that it has not done enough to remove exploitative and harmful content. 

"Given the size at which we operate and how quickly we’ve grown over the past couple of years, we will inevitably encounter issues we need to address on an ongoing basis," Facebook wrote in the post.

The company wrote that it partnered with Cognizant, as well as Accenture and Genpact, in recent years to scale "our investment in safety and security, including rapidly growing our content review teams." 

According to the Verge investigation, content reviewers with Cognizant make less than $30,000 per year, while the average Facebook employee makes around $240,000. 

Current and former employees told The Verge that mental health resources for traumatized content reviewers are inadequate or downright unhelpful. 

The report also tracked instances in which content reviewers were radicalized by what they were seeing online, as "conspiracy videos and memes that [moderators] see each day gradually lead them to embrace fringe views."

“People really started to believe these posts they were supposed to be moderating,” one employee told The Verge. “They were saying, ‘Oh gosh, they weren’t really there. Look at this CNN video of David Hogg — he’s too old to be in school.’ People started Googling things instead of doing their jobs and looking into conspiracy theories about them. We were like, ‘Guys, no, this is the crazy stuff we’re supposed to be moderating. What are you doing?’”

One moderator began to express theories that the earth is flat, while another began to deny that the Holocaust happened, The Verge reported.

Facebook in the post wrote that it is instituting a "rigorous and regular compliance and audit process" to check in on third-party contractors and that it will increase "requirements and expectations" laid out in contracts. 

"We encourage all partner employees to raise any concerns with their employers’ HR teams," Facebook wrote.

A Cognizant spokesperson said the company has looked into some of the complaints raised in The Verge investigation.

"[We have] previously taken action where necessary and have steps in place to continue to address these concerns and any others raised by our employees," the Cognizant spokesperson said, according to CNBC. "Cognizant is committed to providing a healthy, safe and positive work environment for all of our associates." 

Many of the employees who spoke to The Verge described psychological damage from the job, including suicidal thoughts and heightened anxiety.

“I’m f---ed up, man,” one worker said. “My mental health — it’s just so up and down. One day I can be really happy, and doing really good. The next day, I’m more or less of a zombie. It’s not that I’m depressed. I’m just stuck.”

“I don’t think it’s possible to do the job and not come out of it with some acute stress disorder or PTSD," he said.

Updated at 2:03 p.m.