Recap: Ex-Facebook content moderator speaks at RightsCon

Daniel Motaung, a Facebook content moderator who blew the whistle on abusive working conditions, spoke at the 2023 RightsCon Summit about his experience and overall Facebook harms. Motaung was one of four speakers as part of the summit’s panel entitled “Facebook: deadly by design.”

During the panel, Motaung recounted his experience as a content moderator in Kenya. “In terms of working conditions, you have [these] unrealistic targets, and then at the same time, you don’t have any support whatsoever,” he said. “I was becoming dysfunctional.”

Motaung receives whistleblower support from The Signals Network.

content moderator at RightsCon

Motaung was joined by Fisseha Tekle, a former Ethiopia researcher and legal advisor at Amnesty International, and Abrham Meareg, whose father was brutally murdered after slanderous Facebook posts targeted him for attack.

Those three speakers were joined by their lawyer Mercy Mutemi of Nzili and Sumbi Advocates. Martha Dark, Director of TFoxglove, a TSN partner and tech accountability nonprofit supporting these cases, also spoke on the panel.

Motaung was provided with wellness counseling by the company Facebook outsourced their content moderation to, but he said it wasn’t sufficient to help with the PTSD he was developing as a result of the extremely graphic, violent content he reviewed on a daily basis. He needed to see a mental health professional.

“You end up with misinformation or disinformation and people dying out there,” he said. “Why? Well, because the system has failed. You end up with me sick from PTSD. Because the system has failed. … Are they willing to do something about it? No, they are not willing to do something about it.” When Motaung first blew the whistle, Time magazine reporter Billy Perrigo worked with him as a source and investigated those working conditions, resulting in the Time magazine February 2022 cover story, “Inside Facebook’s African Sweatshop.” TSN provided support to Motaung and another whistleblower quoted in the story.

When working for Sama, Motaung developed PTSD and anxiety from the $2-per-hour content moderation job, which required watching hours of graphic content each day from across Sub-Saharan Africa including videos of beheadings and abuse. When he tried to mobilize over 100 of his colleagues to fight for better working conditions in 2019, he was fired.

Motaung was later named in TIME100Next, a list that recognizes “emerging leaders from around the world who are shaping the future and defining the next generation of leadership.” He is now the plaintiff in a lawsuit accusing Sama and Facebook’s parent company Meta of human trafficking and union busting.

Founded in 2017, TSN is a 501(c)3 organization with international operations dedicated to supporting whistleblowers and holding powerful interests accountable. TSN provides customized legal, psychological, physical safety, temporary safe-housing, online safety, career and communication support to a selected group of whistleblowers who have contributed to published reports of significant wrongdoing.

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