On Monday a former YouTube moderator filed a class action lawsuit, accusing the video sharing platform of breaching Californian legislation when it neglected to ensure a a safe workplace and safeguard the mental well being of content moderators
The ex-moderator, who is not named in the class action lawsuit, said that the work involved in the role lead to her suffering from “severe psychological trauma including depression and symptoms associated with anxiety and PTSD.”
It is thought that her ultimate aim is to have YouTube put in place more stringent safety measures along with footing the bill for any treatment required for staff to deal with the stressful and disturbing nature of the content that they are expected to moderate. She went on to allege that Google-owned YouTube did not “implement the workplace safety standards it helped create” and required moderators “to work under conditions it knows cause and exacerbate psychological trauma.”
The woman in question was employed by a a staffing agency called Collabera to the contract role of content moderator on the YouTube video sharing platform. She held the role from from January 2018 until August 2019. YouTube and Collabera did not respond when asked to comment on the allegations.
As part of their daily duties YouTube moderators must reviewing hours of videos of deeply disturbing content including rape, torture, killing, suicide, and animal cruelty. Typically they are expecting to view from 100-300 daily. Along with this they must report and error rate less that 5%. YouTube has long acknowledged the mental health risks to which it exposes moderators — and even helped develop best practices for reducing them.
Despite that, the ex-moderator said YouTube: downplayed those risks during training and on the job; required moderators to work longer hours because of demanding quotas, high turnover, and the company being “chronically understaffed”; and tried to silence moderators who raised concerns through non-disclosure agreements.
The class action that the prospective employees are advised, prior to taking up the role, they they “might be required to review graphic content” that “can have negative mental health impacts.”
She included an allegation that, given the opportunity, YouTube consistently failed to use product features that would have made the role less stressful with less disturbing content to moderate.
There was an emphasis on the supposed resource of a “wellness coaches”. These were maded available by YouTube provided for psychological support. However they were rarely accessible and those who did have access “did not receive any on-site medical care because Wellness Coaches are not medical doctors and cannot diagnose or treat mental health disorders”. She claims that one such coach advised her, in 2018, to “take illegal drugs” to help with the stress.
The lawsuit alleges that YouTube is liable for the suffering of the content moderators because the nature of the work is “abnormally dangerous” and that the video sharing platform is has been guilty of negligent behavior and of providing “unsafe equipment.”