Content Moderator Sues Facebook Regarding Workplace Safety

(Forbes)  A former Facebook moderator is suing the company, claiming that the images she was expected to review on the site have given her post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Selena Scola of San Francisco worked at Facebook for nine months through staffing contractor Pro Unlimited, also named in the litigation.  There, she claims in the lawsuit, she was subjected to thousands of “videos, images and livestreamed broadcasts of child sexual abuse, rape, torture, bestiality, beheadings, suicide, and murder.”

Despite helping to establish a voluntary code for training, counseling, and supporting content moderators more than ten years ago, she claims, Facebook has been failing to abide by its own guidelines.  According to the lawsuit, Scola didn’t get the training she should have in how to handle the distress caused by the job.

“It is well-documented that repeated exposure to such images can have a profoundly negative effect on the viewer,” says Korey Nelson of law firm of Burns Charest.

“Facebook is ignoring its duty to provide a safe workplace and instead creating a revolving door of contractors who are irreparably traumatized by what they witnessed on the job.”

After joining the company in June 2017, says Scola, she suffered from fatigue, insomnia, and social anxiety before being formally diagnosed with PTSD.  Her symptoms are triggered, she says, by anything from watching violent programs on TV to simply touching a computer mouse.

“Our client is asking Facebook to set up a medical monitoring fund to provide testing and care to content moderators with PTSD,” said Steve Williams of law firm Joseph Saveri, also involved in the case.

“Facebook needs to mitigate the harm to content moderators today and also take care of the people that have already been traumatized.”

A mix of full-time employees and contractors, Facebook moderators between them check out millions of suspect posts every day.  Scola is just one of more than 7,500 people currently doing the job—a number that the company says it plans to expand to 20,000.  Scola’s lawyers say they are seeking class-action status for the lawsuit.

The case isn’t the only one of its kind to be working its way through the courts.  Two former Microsoft employees, for example, are suing the company claiming they were forced to view “many thousands of photographs and video of the most horrible, inhumane, and disgusting content you can imagine.”

The two are seeking damages, but also want Microsoft to introduce mandatory job rotation, more time off, and weekly meetings with a psychologist.

Once upon a time, the job of content moderator was a rare and specialist one.  Now, though, in an effort to clean up their platforms, major tech companies are hiring them at a furious rate.

As Facebook VP of operations Ellen Silver commented recently in a blog post, “Content review at this size has never been done before.”

(Reporting by Emma Woollacott)