South African Facebook whistleblower visits UK Parliament

On June 12th, Facebook whistleblower Daniel Motaung landed in London for a whirlwind week of advocacy. Sama AI, a third-party contractor for Facebook working on content moderation recruited Daniel from South Africa in 2019 to work in their Nairobi office. Daniel spent the better part of a year moderating graphic content from around the world. He also organized a group of 100 employees to call for better pay and more support but was subsequently fired. The story was first reported by Billy Perrigo in Time and became Time’s cover story when it was released.

While in London, Daniel met with his lawyers at Foxglove, a non-profit legal organization that is taking his case against Facebook and Sama in Kenya Court along with Kenyan lawyer, Mercy Sumbi. He also joined Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen, journalist Billy, Mercy, and Foxglove’s Cori Crider at an event to discuss Facebook’s content moderation practices and lack of support for the people like Daniel doing the necessary content moderation. At the event, Daniel cited psychological support from The Signals Network as crucial in helping him deal with the PTSD he suffered from working as a content moderator. After the event, Daniel, Frances Haugen, TSN’s Executive Director Delphine Halgand-Mishra, and TSN’s Tech Accountability Project Manager Ben Grazda had dinner nearby to discuss how to support content moderators and build worker power in Big Tech companies.

The next day, Daniel visited the UK Parliament to advocate for more support for content moderators and transparency into the shadowy global supply chain of content moderation contractors. TSN and Foxglove also attended the meetings to discuss the importance of including Daniel’s points in the UK’s Online Safety Bill currently making its way through Parliament. The day after the meeting, MP Alex Davies-Jones gave an impassioned speech in an official debate on the bill where she discussed her meeting with Daniel and said, “I commend his bravery in speaking out and standing up for his rights…I pay tribute to all of those human moderators keeping us all safe by having to look at some of the most horrendous, graphic content…There is a human element to all this.”

Daniel also met with MP Chi Onwurah who leads a group of MPs working on UK-African relations, and with MP Damian Collins who is the Chair of the Joint Committee on the draft Online Safety Bill. All three MPs, from across the political aisle, asked engaging questions and promised to keep fighting for the rights of moderators. It can often be difficult to directly link whistleblowers with their impact given the variety of factors at play, but in this instance, it’s clear that a whistleblower’s voice was heard loud and clear. TSN will continue to work with Daniel to achieve further tangible impact.

Daniel left London with a stuffed animal souvenir for his seven-month-old daughter and determination to continue fighting for his global content moderation colleagues.

Story by Ben Grazda, June 22, 2022 – San Francisco