You might think that moderating social media content is a simple job, but it entails a lot more than simply policing abusive users. Dealing with the high quantity of shocking activity takes its toll on many of the moderators at Facebook.
Numerous active and inactive contractors who worked at Facebook’s Berlin-based moderation facilities have spoken about some co-workers who developed addictions to graphic content, gathering a personal collection of sensitive data. The contractors also spoke of other moderators who struggled to handle the high volume of hate speech and false news that they had to sift through each day.
Working eight hours a day (or more) including weekends, moderators have to face images and videos of explicit violence and nudity, as well as endless cases of bullying, all for close to minimum wage.
Many also have to manage private chats between adults and young children that have been selected by algorithms that detect potential sexual exploitation.
9 out of 10 of these conversations were of a sexual nature and described as “violating and creepy” according to one moderator. “You understand something more about this sort of dystopic society we are building every day,” he added. “We have rich white men from Europe, from the US, writing to children from the Philippines. They try to get sexual photos in exchange for $10 or $20.”
Another contractor said, “I think it’s a breach of human rights. You cannot ask someone to work fast, to work well, and to see graphic content. The things that we saw are just not right.”
For their protection, the moderators chose to remain anonymous. “We are a sort of vanguard in this field. It’s a completely new job, and everything about it is basically an experiment,” explained the one contractor. “Once, I found a colleague of ours checking online, looking to purchase a Taser, because he started to feel scared about others. He confessed he was really concerned about walking through the streets at night, for example, or being surrounded by foreign people. Maybe because all this hate speech we have to face every day affects our political view somehow. So a normal person, a liberal person, maybe also a progressive person, can get more conservative, more concerned about issues like migrants for example. Indeed, many of the hate speech contents we receive on a daily basis are fake news which aims to share very particular political views.”
A former moderator stated, “I’m here today because I would like to avoid other people falling into this hole. As a contemporary society, we are running into this new thing – the internet – and we have to find some rules to deal with it. It’s important to create a team, for example in a social network, aiming to protect users from abusers, hate speech, racial prejudice, better pornographic software, etc. but I think it’s important to open a debate about this job. We need to share our stories, because people don’t know anything about us, about our job, about what we do to earn a living.”
In an effort to deal with the trauma and paranoia that develops due to their daily encounters, many moderators end up self-medicating or relying on the use of drugs and alcohol, as the psychological support that Facebook offered to their employees was inadequate.