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Facebook content moderators demand more workplace COVID-19 protections

Facebook content moderators demand more workplace COVID-19 protections
© JOSH EDELSON/AFP via Getty Images

More than 200 content moderators for Facebook are demanding increased coronavirus protections in the workplace, saying they are being forced to return to offices amid a spike in COVID-19 cases.

The letter, signed by some Facebook employees, was addressed to Facebook CEO Mark ZuckerbergMark Elliot ZuckerbergDemocrats urge YouTube to remove election misinformation, step up efforts ahead of Georgia runoff Democrats press Facebook, Twitter on misinformation efforts ahead of Georgia runoff Hillicon Valley: Facebook content moderators demand more workplace protections | Ousted cyber official blasts Giuliani press conference | Tech firms fall short on misinformation targeting Latino vote MORE, Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg as well as the chief executives of Accenture and CPL, the two companies contracted by the social media giant for content moderation.

“Before the pandemic, content moderation was easily Facebook’s most brutal job,” the workers wrote in Wednesday's letter. “Now, on top of work that is psychologically toxic, holding onto the job means walking into a hot zone. In several offices, multiple COVID cases have occurred on the floor.”

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A contractor tested positive for COVID-19 shortly after content moderators working for Accenture were asked to return to their offices last month in Austin, Texas, The Intercept reported, citing an internal email.

The workers are now calling on Facebook and its contracting partners to improve safety and working conditions, allow moderators who live with at-risk individuals to stay home and provide hazard pay to those who return to offices.

They also reiterated demands for Facebook to stop outsourcing content moderation.

“Facebook should bring the content moderation workforce in house, giving us the same rights and benefits as full Facebook staff,” they wrote.

The letter was organized by Foxglove, a law firm that has represented content moderators. Sixty-one workers signed Wednesday's letter by name, while another 171 content moderators did so anonymously.

“This is the biggest joint international effort of Facebook content moderators yet,” the law firm tweeted Wednesday. “Many more moderators in other sites wanted to sign, but were too intimidated by Facebook - these people are risking their livelihood to speak out.”

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A Facebook spokesperson said in a statement to The Hill that the majority of content moderators have been allowed to stay home and have access to benefits.

“We appreciate the valuable work content reviewers do and we prioritize their health and safety. While we believe in having an open internal dialogue, these discussions need to be honest,” they said.

Facebook uses a mix of employees and contractors around the world to implement its content moderation policies, determining which posts are taken down and which ones can stay up. The majority of the 15,000 content moderators are not Facebook employees.

The platform has leaned more heavily on automated content moderation during the pandemic when workers were not in offices.

“The AI wasn’t up to the job,” the letter argues. “Important speech got swept into the maw of the Facebook filter — and risky content, like self-harm, stayed up.”

A spokesperson for Accenture said in a statement that the contractor is "gradually inviting our people to return to offices, but only where there is a critical need to do so and only when we are comfortable that we have put the right safety measures in place, following local ordinances."

"These include vastly reduced building occupancy, extensive social distancing and masks, daily office cleaning, individual transportation and other measures," they added.

A spokesperson for CPL also stressed the health measures they are implementing as content moderators return to offices.

"The health and safety of our employees is our top priority and we review each employee’s situation on a case by case basis," they said. "Our employees work in a state of the art office which is operating at 25% capacity to facilitate strict social distancing. We are providing private transport to and from the office, so employees do not need to take public transport."

Updated at 10:57 a.m., Nov. 20.