Posted: August 20th, 2019
The possibility of working conditions and duties leading to the psychological trauma of social media moderators has been highlighted in a BBC documentary.
The report detailed the working experience of Shawn Speaglem who worked as a Facebook content moderator for a third party company Cognizant, based in Florida in the United States. Despite have completed a non-disclosure agreement about his time in the role, Shawn opted to disregard this so he could speak out on the pictures and images that workers have to view due to Facebook’s moderation policies and processes.
He said: “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 told the documentary makers that he has suffered great stress, weight gain and depression due to the content he had to view as part of his expected duties. 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.”
In Ireland, where the European Union headquarters of many social media platforms are located in Dublin, a legal action is being considered on behalf of moderators in relation to their working conditions. Facebook has faced actions similar to this in the past. In September 2018 Selena Scola, a former content moderator with the company submitted a legal action against the company in relation to the mental effects of the work was had to complete. She claimed that the viewing of disturbing images and videos lead to her developing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during the time that she was employed at the Facebook headquarters in California. Subsequent to this two more former Facebook content moderators issued similar claims and, as a result, Facebook may now face a class-action lawsuit in relation to this issue.
Continual and repeated exposure to harmful content is an unfortunate side effect of the as part a Moderators role. These side effects can lead to psychological injury and traumatic mental damage to the Moderators over time due to the content that they have to view due to the review and publishing policy of the social media platforms that they work for.
Such trauma can have a great impact depending on the actual content witnessed, the provision and availability of proper support mechanisms from employers to allow staff to deal with work-related trauma and work expectations. The latter refers to the level of work and output required to be completed each day. It is the obligation (duty of care) of the employer to ensure that they provide a safe place of work, a safe system of work and to prevent harm to their employees.
Any content moderators who have suffered due to their working conditions, or required outputs, should look after their own health and seek help as soon as possible. it is also advisable to contact an experienced solicitor to ensure that the company is acting with a duty of care to them.