Facebook content moderators expected to ‘remain quiet’ over poor treatment

Tánaiste to write to Facebook over concerns as employees discuss ‘unfair’ conditions

Contractors who moderate harmful online content for Facebook are put under pressure to "remain quiet" over unequal treatment and a lack of mental health supports, two workers have said.

In a rare press conference, two current Facebook content moderators working in Dublin, Ibrahim Halawa and Paria Moshfeghi, spoke publicly about their employment conditions.

The pair work for Covalen, a company based in Sandyford, south Dublin, which is contracted by Facebook to moderate its content.

Speaking on Friday, Mr Halawa said the treatment of content moderators was “discriminatory and unfair” compared to direct Facebook employees.

He said many of those moderating the social media content “are really worried about their safety, about their mental health”.

Mr Halawa, who grew up in Tallaght, southwest Dublin, was imprisoned in Egypt for four years when he was 17. He was acquitted in 2017 on all charges relating to a protest against the military coup in Egypt in 2013.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar met Mr Halawa and Ms Moshfeghi on Friday, and committed to write to Facebook over the content moderators’ concerns.

The press conference was organised by Foxglove, an organisation campaigning for better working conditions in the tech industry.

Martha Dark, co-founder of Foxglove, said Facebook moderators were made to sign “very restrictive non-disclosure agreements”, and were often “subject to hours of toxic material without proper or meaningful mental health support”.

The content can include videos of violence and beheadings, as well as child abuse imagery.

‘Safety concerns’

Ms Moshfeghi, a content moderator at Covalen since 2016, said she had “safety concerns” over requirements to work from the office during Covid-19.

“In the same way Facebook staff is protected we should be allowed to work from home. The thing that [is] most bothering is being treated as a second class citizen,” she told the online press conference.

Sinn Féin spokeswoman for enterprise Louise O’Reilly said post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was a “noted consequence” of social media content moderation work.

“There has to be meaningful mental health supports, and that’s not the case at the moment,” she said.

A spokeswoman for Facebook said the office where moderators worked was operating at 25 per cent capacity, and was deep cleaned every day.

“Our focus is on how content review can be done in a way that keeps our reviewers safe. We work with our partners to put strict health and safety measures in place, make sure they’re followed and disclose any confirmed cases of illness,” she said.

Facebook was committed to working with its subcontractors “to provide support for our content reviewers as we recognise that reviewing certain types of content can sometimes be hard”, she said.

A spokeswoman for Covalen said that “due to the essential nature of the role and the sensitivity of the content our employees review, most of this work cannot be carried out from employees’ homes and must therefore be carried out on site”.

The spokeswoman said the company operate a “professional, safe and rewarding work environment. We are very proud of the great work carried out by our team.”