In a preliminary settlement filed on Friday in San Mateo Superior Court (California), Facebook agreed to pay $52 million to current and former moderators to compensate them for psychological trauma that they suffered as part of their role.
This groundbreaking ruling officially recognizes the taxing nature of the content moderation duties involved and, in addition to this, Facebook committed to arranging additional counselling for those carrying out content moderation duties on their platform.
This preliminary settlement provides compensation for content moderators based in the United States – California, Arizona, Texas, and Florida – from 2015 until now. There will be time put aside for those who participated in the class action to comment on the proposed settlement and request changes before it receives final approval from a judge. It is envisaged that this will take place prior to the end of 2020.
A similar action is currently being taken in Ireland as a number of individuals have submitted a legal action against employment agency, and provider of content moderators to Facebook, CPL and Facebook via the High Court. This legal action claims that, as part of their daily duties, they (the content moderators) sustained “psychological trauma” due to unacceptable work conditions and inadequate training to help the deal with the stressful nature of the role and the disturbing content they were expected to view.
Dave Coleman, Partner at Coleman Legal, who are representing content moderators based in Ireland, said in relation to the preliminary settlement: “The recent developments in some States of the United States are to be welcomed. The acknowledgements from Facebook that seem to be contained in the proposed Settlement are an important first step taken by Facebook in this case. We hope to see clarity soon with regard to the issue of outsourced workers who carried out commercial content Moderation for Facebook. In the meantime the Irish cases, on behalf of European Commercial Content Moderators continue to be progressed before the Irish Courts and further comment at this time would be inappropriate.”
The terms of the proposed settlement state in the US state that every moderator will receive at least $1,000. However, a content moderator can seek additional compensation if they are diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder or related conditions. Anyone who is diagnosed with a mental health condition cans claim up to $1,500 more, and people who receive multiple concurrent diagnoses — PTSD and depression, for instance — could be eligible for compensation up to $6,000. Along with the aforementioned compensation, which is intended to be used for medical treatment , moderators with a qualifying diagnosis will be eligible to submit evidence of other injuries they sustained for their time at Facebook and could receive up to $50,000 in damages
In total the preliminary settlement includes 11,250 moderators. Legal representatives in the class action believe that as many as half of them may be eligible for extra pay related to mental health issues associated with their time working for Facebook, including depression and addiction.
The precise amount of the overall compensation paid out to each individual will depend on the number of the members of the class action that apply for benefits. Hence is may be much smaller and it could shrink significantly if the majority of the class is found to be eligible for benefits.
As part of the settlement agreed Facebook has committed to implementing a number of changes to how it conducts content moderation in order to lessen the impact of viewing harmful images and videos. Some of the changes include muting audio by default and changing videos to black and white. It is planned that these changes will be configured to 80% percent of moderators by the end of 2020 and the remaining content moderation workforce in the subsequent 12 months.
A number of other changes announced included reconsidering the hiring process to including reviewing applicants for emotional resiliency, sharing information about psychological support at each moderator’s desk and advising moderators how to report violations of Facebook’s workplace standards by the vendors who employ them.
Access to weekly, one-on-one coaching sessions with a licensed mental health professional will be provided for content moderators who view graphic and disturbing content every day and those members of staff who suffer with a mental health crisis will have a session with a licensed counselor arranged within 24 hours. Facebook will also arrange monthly group therapy sessions for moderators who express an interest in this,.
Facebook released a statement which said: “We are grateful to the people who do this important work to make Facebook a safe environment for everyone. We’re committed to providing them additional support through this settlement and in the future.” Last July Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg initially dismissed the multiple stories of moderators developing PTSD, referring to them as “a little overdramatic”.