The se­cret lives of Face­book mod­er­a­tors in Amer­ica

Sun.Star Pampanga - - TECHNEWS! -

The panic at­tacks started af­ter Chloe watched a man die.

She spent the past three and a half weeks in train­ing, try­ing to harden her­self against the daily on­slaught of dis­turb­ing posts: the hate speech, the vi­o­lent at­tacks, the graphic pornog­ra­phy. In a few more days, she will be­come a full-time Face­book con­tent mod­er­a­tor, or what the com­pany she works for, a pro­fes­sional ser­vices ven­dor named Cog­nizant, opaquely calls a “process ex­ec­u­tive.”

For this por­tion of her ed­u­ca­tion, Chloe will have to mod­er­ate a Face­book post in front of her fel­low trainees. When it’s her turn, she walks to the front of the room, where a mon­i­tor dis­plays a video that has been posted to the world’s largest so­cial net­work. None of the trainees have seen it be­fore, Chloe in­cluded. She presses play.


The video de­picts a man be­ing mur­dered. Some­one is stab­bing him, dozens of times, while he screams and begs for his life. Chloe’s job is to tell the room whether this post should be re­moved. She knows that sec­tion 13 of the Face­book com­mu­nity stan­dards pro­hibits videos that de­pict the mur­der of one or more peo­ple. When Chloe ex­plains this to the class, she hears her voice shak­ing.

Re­turn­ing to her seat, Chloe feels an over­pow­er­ing urge to sob. An­other trainee has gone up to re­view the next post, but Chloe can­not con­cen­trate. She leaves the room, and be­gins to cry so hard that she has trou­ble breath­ing.

No one tries to com­fort her. This is the job she was hired to do. And for the 1,000 peo­ple like Chloe mod­er­at­ing con­tent for Face­book at the Phoenix site, and for 15,000 con­tent re­view­ers around the world, to­day is just an­other day at the of­fice.

Over the past three months, I in­ter­viewed a dozen cur­rent and for­mer em­ploy­ees of Cog­nizant in Phoenix. All had signed non-dis­clo­sure agree­ments with Cog­nizant in which they pledged not to dis­cuss their work for Face­book — or even ac­knowl­edge that Face­book is Cog­nizant’s client. The shroud of se­crecy is meant to pro­tect em­ploy­ees from users who may be an­gry about a con­tent mod­er­a­tion de­ci­sion and seek to re­solve it with a known Face­book con­trac­tor. The NDAs are also meant to pre­vent con­trac­tors from shar­ing Face­book users’ per­sonal in­for­ma­tion with the out­side world, at a time of in­tense scru­tiny over data pri­vacy is­sues.

But the se­crecy also in­su­lates Cog­nizant and Face­book from crit­i­cism about their work­ing con­di­tions, mod­er­a­tors told me. They are pres­sured not to dis­cuss the emo­tional toll that their job takes on them, even with loved ones, lead­ing to in­creased feel­ings of iso­la­tion and anx­i­ety. To pro­tect them from po­ten­tial re­tal­i­a­tion, both from their em­ploy­ers and from Face­book users, I agreed to use pseudonyms for ev­ery­one named in this story ex­cept Cog­nizant’s vice pres­i­dent of op­er­a­tions for busi­ness process ser­vices, Bob Dun­can, and Face­book’s di­rec­tor of global part­ner ven­dor man­age­ment, Mark David­son.

Col­lec­tively, the em­ploy­ees de­scribed a work­place that is per­pet­u­ally tee­ter­ing on the brink of chaos. It is an en­vi­ron­ment where work­ers cope by telling dark jokes about com­mit­ting sui­cide, then smoke weed dur­ing breaks to numb their emo­tions.

It’s a place where em­ploy­ees can be fired for mak­ing just a few er­rors a week — and where those who re­main live in fear of the for­mer col­leagues who re­turn seek­ing vengeance. It’s a place where, in stark con­trast to the perks lav­ished on Face­book em­ploy­ees, team lead­ers mi­cro­man­age con­tent mod­er­a­tors’ ev­ery bath­room and prayer break; where em­ploy­ees, des­per­ate for a dopamine rush amid the mis­ery, have been found hav­ing sex in­side stair­wells and a room re­served for lac­tat­ing moth­ers; where peo­ple de­velop se­vere anx­i­ety while still in train­ing, and con­tinue to strug­gle with trauma symp­toms long af­ter they leave; and where the coun­sel­ing that Cog­nizant of­fers them ends the mo­ment they quit — or are sim­ply let go.

The mod­er­a­tors told me it’s a place where the con­spir­acy videos and memes that they see each day grad­u­ally lead them to em­brace fringe views. One au­di­tor walks the floor pro­mot­ing the idea that the Earth is flat. A for­mer em­ployee told me he has be­gun to ques­tion cer­tain as­pects of the Holo­caust. An­other for­mer em­ployee, who told me he has mapped ev­ery es­cape route out of his house and sleeps with a gun at his side, said: “I no longer be­lieve 9/11 was a ter­ror­ist at­tack.”

Chloe cries for a while in the break room, and then in the bath­room, but be­gins to worry that she is miss­ing too much train­ing. She had been fran­tic for a job when she ap­plied, as a re­cent col­lege grad­u­ate with no other im­me­di­ate prospects. When she be­comes a full-time mod­er­a­tor, Chloe will make $15 an hour — $4 more than the min­i­mum wage in Ari­zona, where she lives, and bet­ter than she can ex­pect from most re­tail jobs. The tears even­tu­ally stop com­ing, and her breath­ing re­turns to nor­mal.

When she goes back to the train­ing room, one of her peers is dis­cussing an­other vi­o­lent video. She sees that a drone is shoot­ing peo­ple from the air. Chloe watches the bod­ies go limp as they die.

She leaves the room again.

Even­tu­ally a su­per­vi­sor finds her in the bath­room, and of­fers a weak hug. Cog­nizant makes a coun­selor avail­able to em­ploy­ees, but only for part of the day, and he has yet to get to work. Chloe waits for him for the bet­ter part of an hour.

When the coun­selor sees her, he ex­plains that she has had a panic at­tack. He tells her that, when she grad­u­ates, she will have more con­trol over the Face­book videos than she had in the train­ing room. You will be able to pause the video, he tells her, or watch it with­out au­dio. Fo­cus on your breath­ing, he says. Make sure you don’t get too caught up in what you’re watch­ing.

”He said not to worry — that I could prob­a­bly still do the job,” Chloe says. Then she catches her­self: “His con­cern was: don’t worry, you can do the job.”

On May 3, 2017, Mark Zucker­berg an­nounced the ex­pan­sion of Face­book’s “com­mu­nity op­er­a­tions” team. The new em­ploy­ees, who would be added to 4,500 ex­ist­ing mod­er­a­tors, would be re­spon­si­ble for re­view­ing ev­ery piece of con­tent re­ported for vi­o­lat­ing the com­pany’s com­mu­nity stan­dards. By the end of 2018, in re­sponse to crit­i­cism of the preva­lence of vi­o­lent and ex­ploita­tive con­tent on the so­cial net­work, Face­book had more than 30,000 em­ploy­ees work­ing on safety and se­cu­rity — about half of whom were con­tent mod­er­a­tors. The mod­er­a­tors in­clude some full-time em­ploy­ees, but Face­book re­lies heav­ily on con­tract la­bor to do the job. Ellen Sil­ver, Face­book’s vice pres­i­dent of op­er­a­tions, said in a blog post last year that the use of con­tract la­bor al­lowed

Face­book to “scale glob­ally” — to have con­tent mod­er­a­tors work­ing around the clock, eval­u­at­ing posts in more than 50 lan­guages, at more than 20 sites around the world.

The use of con­tract la­bor also has a prac­ti­cal ben­e­fit for

Face­book: it is rad­i­cally cheaper. The me­dian Face­book em­ployee earns $240,000 an­nu­ally in salary, bonuses, and stock op­tions. A con­tent mod­er­a­tor work­ing for Cog­nizant in Ari­zona, on the other hand, will earn just $28,800 per year. The ar­range­ment helps Face­book main­tain a high profit mar­gin.

In its most re­cent quar­ter, the com­pany earned $6.9 bil­lion in prof­its, on $16.9 bil­lion in rev­enue. And while Zucker­berg had warned in­vestors that Face­book’s in­vest­ment in se­cu­rity would re­duce the com­pany’s prof­itabil­ity, prof­its were up 61 per­cent over the pre­vi­ous year.

No­tice is hereby given that EMY M. AL­VAREZ, REY­NANTE D. ME­D­INA, LAZARO D. ME­D­INA JR., and LANI M. ANDRES, all of le­gal ages, and all res­i­dents of San An­to­nio, Guagua, Pam­panga, hereby freely and vol­un­tar­ily de­clare and state that:

1. We are the le­gal chil­dren and sole sur­viv­ing heirs of the de­ceased ESCOLASTICA D. ME­D­INA, who died on Fe­bru­ary 16, 2019 at Rosario Memo­rial Hos­pi­tal, San Roque, Guagua, Pam­panga 2. The De­ceased died in­tes­tate,with­out leav­ing any Last Will and Tes­ta­ment, and with­out any out­stand­ing debts;

3. The De­ceased left the fol­low­ing prop­er­ties to wit:

a. Bank Ac­count main­tained with GUAGUA Branch of Philip­pine Na­tional Bank (PNB) with Sav­ings Ac­count No. 205410009681 in the amount of ONE HUN­DRED FOUR THOU­SAND ONE HUN­DRED THIRTY EIGHT AND 69/100 (Php. 104, 138.69) Philip­pine Cur­rency; 4. Pur­suant to Sec­tion 1 of Rule 74 of the Re­vised Rules of Court of the Philip­pines, we do hereby ad­ju­di­cate unto our­selves the above de­scribed prop­er­ties in equal shares pro-in­di­viso; or We have agreed to waive our share in the afore­men­tioned prop­er­ties in fa­vor of our co-heirs LANI M. ANDRES


Sun•Star Pam­panga : March 15, 22 & 29, 2019

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