Former Facebook content moderator, whistleblower speaks at global Mozilla Festival

Former Facebook content moderator Daniel Motaung and Time magazine investigative reporter Billy Perrigo held a virtual panel on March 23 as part of Mozilla Festival, which calls itself “the premiere gathering for activists in diverse global movements fighting for a more humane digital world.”

Motaung is a former content moderator and whistleblower who raised the alarm on the abusive working conditions at Facebook’s Kenyan outsourcing content moderation company, Sama. Perrigo investigated those working conditions and wrote the Time magazine February 2022 cover story, “Inside Facebook’s African Sweatshop.” TSN provided support to Motaung and another whistleblower quoted in the story.

The MozFest panel was titled “Content moderation ‘sweatshops’ – How Big Tech outsources its dirty work and how moderators are fighting back.” The full recording of the panel can be watched here.

During the panel, Motaung explained how a social media content moderator’s job is to make sure users don’t see graphic, violent or potentially traumatizing content. But many content moderators are outsourced in poorer countries across the world. Those moderators have to view multiple pieces of graphic content in a day without enough breaks or mental health services to emotionally recover, he said.

“If you don’t take care of content moderators, their mental health, they are definitely not going to be able to do their jobs accurately,” Motaung said.

Perrigo said third-party outsourcing companies, such as the contract company Sama where Motaung worked, undergo very little oversight to make sure they comply with global social media companies’ guidelines.

“By holding the so-called ‘dirty work’ of moderation at arm’s length, it kind of allows these Big Tech companies to shield themselves from the reputational damage and the legal liability of this work that can leave people with post-traumatic stress disorder,” Perrigo said.

He was citing an argument made by the U.K. nonprofit Foxglove, a partner of TSN that represents Motaung as the plaintiff in a lawsuit against Facebook and Sama accusing them of human trafficking and union-busting. A Kenyan court ruled in February that the lawsuit can proceed. Facebook has appealed, arguing that it should not be sued in Kenya because it has no official presence there.

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.”

It’s been three years since Motaung left Sama and returned to his home in South Africa, but he is still recovering from the trauma.

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