A former Facebook content moderator employee, known in this article as Mr. A has filed a lawsuit against Facebook and outsourcing agency CPL Solutions in Ireland for causing him suffering of “serious psychological injuries” as quoted by Mr. A in the Business Post. An alias is used throughout the article to respect Mr. A’s privacy.
In September 2019, the Personal Injuries Board gave a group of content moderators the approval for pursuing further court action against Facebook. Under section 17 of the Personal Injuries Assessment Board Act 2003, if a plaintiff’s injury consists of psychological damage that would be difficult to assess by the Board, it can give permission for the claim to be pursued through the courts.
Currently, Mr. A’s court action is being undertaken by Coleman Legal.
In November 2017, Mr. A commenced his role as a content moderator in Facebook. During his working hours from 6pm to 2am, he was required to repeatedly review explicit and disturbing material which he alleges included: “videos showing the rape and/or sexual assault of children, a compilation of clips showing people dying by suicide, set to music; a collection of hundreds of photos depicting people self-harming; a video of a man being beaten to death with planks of wood; videos and images of beheadings; videos showing people being electrocuted and impaled and videos showing individuals being stabbed in the stomach.” in the Business Post.
He claims Facebook and CPL Solutions did not conduct any health checks to assess if he would be capable of coping with the impact of his work as a content moderator. In the Irish Times, Mr. A says he was required to “repeatedly view extremely violent, graphic and upsetting material, some of which involved children” in his role. In an article with Vice, Mr. A says “My first day on the job, I witnessed someone being beaten to death with a plank of wood with nails in it and repeatedly stabbed. Day two was the first time for me seeing bestiality on video — and it all escalated from there.”
Mr A alleges the details of his role were not fully disclosed to him before commencing his employment. He claims that he never expected or was informed of the intensity and the frequency of the disturbing and upsetting material that he would be reviewing (Business Post).
Mr. A claims Facebook and CPL Solutions have failed to ensure a reasonable regard for his physical and mental health and wellbeing, as well as exposed him to risk, danger and injury. According to the Health, Safety and Welfare Act at Work 2005, employers have the responsibility to “provide the information, instruction, training and supervision necessary to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the safety, health, and welfare at work of his or her employees”.
Mr. A also claims he was not given adequate training or psychological support to cope with the harsh experience of his role. He had informed Facebook’s Health Coaching Team multiple times regarding his nightmares, anxiety and other symptoms arising from his role and yet, he was not given any help for his mental and emotional strain. He adds “I’ve had to go on antidepressants because of working on the job,” in his Vice interview.
Silicon Republic’s interview with representing solicitor Diane Treanor from Coleman Legal said that Facebook needs to “address the failure” and work to protect future employees. “We are seeking to ensure future moderators will have access to counsellors and healthcare professionals while working for Facebook and after they leave the company,” Treanor added.
The case is gaining more traction across Europe as more content moderators are now reaching out to Coleman Legal from an array of cities including Barcelona, Berlin and Sweden who are interested in seeking compensation for the psychological and physical injury they have sustained during their role working as a content moderator for Facebook.
Why Content Moderators may be reluctant to reach out for help?
Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDA)
If the employee had to sign a non-disclosure agreement before commencing the role, they can be worried about the repercussion of speaking about their work. This can include worry about losing their job, fear of difficulty to find other work in the tech industry or the potential legal action that their employer can take against them.
Facing the trauma alone can cause more emotional distress, anxiety and isolation for the affected employee as they do not have an outlet to talk about the work that is troubling them, hence it can exacerbate their emotional strain and mental struggle.
Employees were “warned”
If the content moderator employee was partially warned by the employer that they would have to review uncomfortable content, the employee may believe that the employers have already warned them and hence their arguments would be invalid. The employee may not understand that the Health, Safety and Welfare Act at Work 2005 requires the employer to provide adequate training and support to ensure well-being for the employee, regardless of whether they were warned about the nature of their jobs or not.
The employee may also categorise extreme content and uncomfortable content on the same level now. This may cause them to just accept that their employers had already informed them, even if it is not a full disclosure of how extreme the nature of the content is and how frequently the employee will review this type of content.
If you have suffered psychological trauma as a content moderator employee or ex-employee and have concerns regarding NDAs, other contracts and acceptance/settling from being partially warned, it is advisable to speak to a solicitor. Visit this page for more information: Click Here