Published On: Tue, Feb 26th, 2019

Things We Saw Today: The Secret Lives of Facebook Moderators Are Absolutely Horrifying

Lives of Facebook moderators

A deep dive into the employees who moderate content for Facebook is eye-opening and scary as hell.

The Verge’s Casey Newton has published “The Trauma Floor: The Secret Lives of America’s Facebook Moderators,” and the article—which should be required reading for all social media users—delves into some disturbing territory. It opens with one moderator’s panic attack after she watches a man being murdered in a video as part of her training, and goes from there to the broader experiences of the people working for Cognizant, a vendor that moderates content for Facebook.

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.”

The article is a fascinating and harrowing read. To me it feels personal: years ago, I spent more than a year in a similar role. I’ve seen more things that I will never be able to unsee than I care to recount. Our training was insufficient, any counseling or support nonexistent. Yet we weren’t even the front line—a similar contract company, like Cognizant, made the first pass at the worst of the material. While there are crimes and cruelties etched into my brain from what I saw, the contracted workers had to bear the brunt of it. My own days of moderation were a walk in the park in comparison. It’s terrifying for me to see what these huge regimented armies of moderators are being made to face on a daily basis.

What does a shift in the life of a Cognizant employee look like?

Miguel works the posts in his queue. They arrive in no particular order at all.

Here is a racist joke. Here is a man having sex with a farm animal. Here is a graphic video of murder recorded by a drug cartel. Some of the posts Miguel reviews are on Facebook, where he says bullying and hate speech are more common; others are on Instagram, where users can post under pseudonyms, and tend to share more violence, nudity, and sexual activity.

My team never had to deal with conditions like the employees of Cognizant are subject to—crowded facilities, locked-away phones, denied pen and paper because of privacy concerns, personal items like hand lotion kept in clear plastic bags under management’s watchful eye. The bureaucratic nightmare here is worse than anything our dystopias of bureaucracy imagined.  (“Miguel is also allotted nine minutes per day of ‘wellness time,’ which he is supposed to use if he feels traumatized and needs to step away from his desk.”)

The degree to which these moderators’ work lives are micromanaged, coupled with the difficult content that they must consume on a daily basis, creates a traumatic environment most people will never think about when they log in to their favorite site.

It’s worth your while to read Newton’s article in its entirety. Then pour one out for our online moderators—or rather, consider buying them a much-needed drink.

(via The Verge, image: Unsplash/Glen Carrie)

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What did you see out there on the Internets today?

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