Kenyan Facebook Content Moderators: Job Is 'Torture'

Lawsuit against the social media giant could have global effects
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jun 29, 2023 6:20 PM CDT
Kenyan Facebook Content Moderators: Job Is 'Torture'
The Facebook logo.   (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer, File)

On the verge of tears, Nathan Nkunzimana recalled watching a video of a child being molested and another of a woman being killed. His job as a content moderator for a Facebook contractor required him to look at horrors. Some overwhelmed colleagues would scream or cry, he said. Now, the AP reports Nkunzimana is among nearly 200 former employees in Kenya who are suing Facebook and local contractor Sama over working conditions that could have implications for social media moderators around the world. It is the first known court challenge outside the United States, where Facebook settled with moderators in 2020. The group was employed at the social media giant's outsourced hub for content moderation in Kenya's capital of Nairobi, where workers screen posts, videos, messages, and other content from users across Africa.

The moderators from several African countries are seeking a $1.6 billion compensation fund after alleging poor working conditions, including insufficient mental health support, and low pay. Earlier this year, they were laid off by Sama as it left the business of content moderation. They assert that the companies are ignoring a court order for their contracts to be extended until the case is resolved. Facebook and Sama have defended their employment practices. Facebook invested in moderation hubs worldwide after being accused of allowing hate speech to circulate in countries like Ethiopia and Myanmar, where conflicts were killing thousands of people and harmful content was posted in a variety of local languages.

Sought for their fluency in various African languages, content moderators hired by Sama in Kenya soon found themselves looking at graphic content that hit painfully close to home. The two years that Fasica Gebrekidan worked as a moderator roughly overlapped with the war in her native Ethiopia's northern Tigray region, where hundreds of thousands of people were killed and many Tigrayans like her knew little about their loved ones' fate. "You run away from the war, then you have to see the war," Fasica said. "It was just a torture for us." Fasica blames Facebook for a lack of proper mental health care and pay and accuses the local contractor of using her and letting her go. "Facebook should know what's going on," she said. "They should care about us."

story continues below

Such work has the potential to be "incredibly psychologically damaging," but job-seekers in lower-income countries might take the risk in exchange for an office job in the tech industry, said Sarah Roberts, an expert in content moderation at the University of California, Los Angeles. What's unusual in the Kenya court case, she said, is that the moderators are organizing and pushing back against their conditions. The usual tactic in such cases in the US is to settle, she said, but "if cases are brought in other places, that might not be so easy for the companies to do that." (More Facebook stories.)

Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.