A BBC documentary has unveiled the working duties of social media moderators that results in psychological trauma and may lead to a barrage of social media moderator compensation awards.
The Storyville report spoke with Shawn Speaglem in relation to his time working as a Facebook content moderator. Shawn was employed by Cognizant, a third party contractor located in Florida. He (Shawn) advised the documentary makers, despite his non-disclosure agreement, about the traumatic video and picture material that he had to review in line with Facebook’s moderation policies and processes.
He commented: “One of my first videos that I remember looking at was two teenagers grabbing an iguana by the tail and they smashed it onto the pavement while a third person was recording it. And the iguana was screaming and the kids just would not stop until the iguana was just pasted on the ground. I’ve seen people put fireworks in a dog’s mouth and duct tape it shut. I’ve seen cannibalism videos, I’ve seen terrorism propaganda videos.”
Shawn described how he experienced massive stress, gained considerable weight and suffered from psychological injuries as a result of the material he was expected to moderate and the absence of any support from his company or Facebook. He said: “I felt like I was a zombie in my seat. It really gets to you because I don’t have that bystander syndrome where I’m OK just watching this suffering and not contributing any way to deter it.”
This is not the first time Facebook has been the subject of a documentary in relation to staff working conditions. In March this year a report titled The Internet’s Dirtiest Secrets: The Cleaners showed how staff based in the Philippines had to make themselves familiar with everything from terrorist logos to sex toys so that they could fulfill their daily moderation goals.
A legal action is expected to be submitted soon in Ireland, where the European Union headquarters of many social media platforms are based, in relation to their the working conditions of social media content moderators.
This is not the first legal action to be registered in relation to this issue.
Selena Scola, a former content moderator with Facebook in California, initiated a lawsuit against the social media giant in September 2018 as a result of the traumatic online content that she had to view and the lack of support provided to her. She claimed, as part of the action, that she began suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during the time that she was working with Facebook. Since she began her case, she has been joined in her action by two more former Facebook content moderators who had similar claims.
Ongoing and constant viewing of traumatic content is part of a moderator’s daily duties and can lead to psychological injury and traumatic mental impact. It can be a massive toll for an individual to take on board depending on what the content seen contained, what support they were given by their employer and what the level of output was expected to be carried out on a daily basis. The employer is legally obliged to have a duty of care to allow for a safe place of work, a safe system of work and to avoid unnecessary suffering being felt by their staff.
Anyone who believes that they may have experienced trauma as a result of their working duties should tend to after their own health and seek help as soon as they can. Following this it is important to get in touch with a knowledgeable solicitor to consider all legal options available.