Facebook moderator sues company over ‘human trafficking’
Former Facebook moderator Daniel Motaung has sued the social media giant’s parent company Meta and its African subcontractor Sama, alleging in the suit filed on Tuesday that the company “subjected current and former content moderators to forced labor and human trafficking for labor.”
Motaung claims he was laid off for organizing a strike in 2019 and trying to unionize Sama’s employees. The subcontractor, he alleges, engaged in a “deceptive recruitment process” by advertising call center jobs that turned out to be content moderation jobs – with all the exposure to psychologically harmful content that entailed.
“The varying descriptions (call center agents, agent and content moderator) for the position of a content moderator are deceptive and designed to trick unsuspecting applicants into unknowingly becoming Facebook Content Moderators,” Motaung’s lawyers declared in their filing, noting that “applicants who responded to the call for ‘Agents’ were especially deceived.”
Sama not only failed to give employees adequate mental health support, it deliberately perpetuated a “toxic work environment” that prohibited moderators from airing their grievances with third parties, including Meta employees, the filing alleged. Workers’ screen time and movement during work hours were tracked using Meta’s software, and they were denied “unplanned breaks as needed particularly after exposure to graphic content,” instead receiving an hour in “wellness breaks” per week – time some employees report having to “beg” to receive.
Employees at the site, located in Nairobi, were drawn from all over Africa, as far away as Ethiopia, Uganda, and Somalia, as well as Motaung’s native South Africa, and only learned the true nature of their jobs after signing contracts and relocating – meaning they could not simply turn around and go home if they found the true nature of the job too disturbing.
An exposé on Sama’s content moderation center published in Time magazine revealed the company paid the lowest rate of any Meta subcontractor – as low as $1.50 per hour, according to the report – and while the company upped workers’ pay in response, its PR problems have persisted. Motaung and his lawyers threatened to sue over a month ago if Sama did not make serious improvements to its treatment of employees.
Meta has sought to distance itself from the company, declaring it requires its partners to “provide industry-leading pay, benefits and support,” while Sama has in turn denied any wrongdoing regarding Motaung’s departure. The company claimed his employment was “terminated because of unacceptable actions taken against fellow employees that jeopardized their safety” and insisted the process was “fair, clear, and well documented.”
Moderators at Sama threatened to strike in the summer of 2019 unless they received better pay and working conditions, but rather than negotiate with the workers, the company flew two higher-ups from the US to “deal with” the uprising – a process that ended with Motaung’s dismissal and the accusation that his actions had put the relationship between Sama and Facebook (now Meta) at “great risk.” Rather than face a similar fate, the other would-be strikers returned to work.