Tánaiste wrote to Facebook about ‘stress’ concerns at service provider

Social media giant said it had a dedicated team of clinical and counselling psychologists available to work with content moderators

 Tánaiste Leo Varadkar wrote directly to Facebook raising the concerns of staff who work with Covalen, a service provider to the social media giant. Photograph: Getty Images

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar wrote directly to Facebook raising the concerns of staff who work with Covalen, a service provider to the social media giant. Photograph: Getty Images

 

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar was told there was no mechanism for investigating work-related stress on a par with that for investigating workplace accidents in briefing material ahead of a meeting with Facebook moderators.

Mr Varadkar met a group of social media content moderators earlier this year where concerns were raised over working conditions, including work-from-home arrangements, access to psychological support and obligatory non-disclosure agreements.

Briefing material for the Tánaiste said the meeting would centre on the “stress and psychological impact” on workers from viewing harmful online content.

Mr Varadkar was also told about apparently “different terms and conditions” that applied to people working for a contractor who moderate online content on behalf of Facebook.

The briefing said social media content moderators had access to the same workplace health and safety legislation as any other employee. The Tánaiste was also told there were “specific stressors inherent in this type of work”, and that staff needed appropriate training, ongoing debriefing and supervisions.

The briefing said: “There is no method for investigating work-related stress on a par with investigating work-related accidents.”

Mr Varadkar was told, however, that employers had an obligation to protect workers from anything that could lead to an injury, including mental ill health.

Similar work

Following the meeting, the Tánaiste wrote directly to Facebook raising the concerns of staff who work with Covalen, a service provider to the social media giant.

He said: “Broadly speaking, the content moderators working in Covalen feel that the terms and conditions attached to their outsourced posts are significantly inferior to those enjoyed by those doing similar work but employed directly by Facebook.”

Also raised in the letter were concerns over access to counsellors, psychologists and psychiatrists to “support [staff] when they encounter personal difficulties as a result of the work they carry out”.

Mr Varadkar’s letter said: “They stated that the quality of mental health services available were inadequate, with health insurance available to content moderators at their own cost rather than as a benefit”.

He concluded his letter by saying: “I encourage Facebook and its partners to engage with the Health and Safety Authority and Workplace Relations Commission, as these organisations are available to offer guidance and assistance to resolve workplace issues”.

High standard

A letter from their head of public policy, Dualta Ó Broin, said a high standard of health and safety measures had been put in place for offices that “not only meet but go beyond HSE guidelines”.

Facebook said it had a dedicated team of clinical and counselling psychologists available to work with content moderators.

In a statement, a Department of Enterprise spokesman said: “The Tánaiste has met with internet content moderators to listen to their concerns. These workers provide a really important service in keeping us all safe.

“The Tánaiste followed up on the issues raised by the workers, directly with the company in question, and the reply received has been shared with those in attendance at the meeting.

“The Health and Safety Authority, the independent regulator for workplace safety, is following up on complaints received.”