A recent article published on the online news site The Verge has provided a unique insight into the almost impossible working conditions encountered by those who are contracted to work as social media moderators for social media platforms.
One of these moderators, Peter, is employed at the Accenture base in Austin, Texas. On a daily basis, he is given a workload of videos by YouTube which he must review and judge suitability for public broadcasting. There are different teams working on different types of content, Peter works what is known internally as the “VE queue,” which stands for violent extremism. This means that his daily duties include viewing violence and abuse.
Viewing content like this constantly can have a detrimental impact on the health of a content moderator. In the past 12 months alone Peter has seen one of his co-workers collapse at work in distress and another colleague, who suffered from depression, failing to eat properly and being hospitalized for an acute vitamin deficiency.
Peter has been in the role for two years already and has expressed some concerns about the toll that it is taking on his psychological mindset. He said that he has lost hair and gained weight since he began the job and he has noticed his temper is shorter. He said: “Every day you watch someone beheading someone, or someone shooting his girlfriend. After that, you feel like wow, this world is really crazy. This makes you feel ill. You’re feeling there is nothing worth living for. Why are we doing this to each other?”
He (Peter) said that, when he got the job, he was hoping to have found a position like the full-time Google employees who sometimes visit his office. These people told him that a higher wage, better health benefits, and more caring managers would alleviate the burdens of the job.
Peter tries to unwind. However he has noticed that he has difficulty watching violence in movies when he has seen this happen in real life. He said that a number of his colleagues cope with the stress by taking drugs — mostly weed. He said that, over time, everyone attitude change: “At the beginning, you’d see everybody saying, ‘Hi, how are you? Everybody was friendly. They’d go around checking in. Now nobody is even wanting to talk to the others.”
Peter said that he was happy that he was “finally working in an office. I thought about all the opportunities. I thought about a career.” However he says that the reality soon became apparent, during orientation for the role and that until this point he “didn’t have an idea what it (his work duties) was because they won’t tell you.”
Wellness time is reserved for workers to alleviate some of the pressure of the job. As such Accenture instructs moderators to process their 120 videos per day in five hours, according to the workers I spoke with, with two hours per day of paid “wellness” time and a one-hour unpaid lunch.
Peter said that the stress of the work duties was so intense that he felt like he was being experiment on: “You’re just a rat. They try new things on you.”
YouTube is among a number of social media and digital platform facing large scale legal actions due to the working conditions experienced by its content moderators. If you are a content moderator for a social media or digital platform, and you feel like you have a case, you should speak to a solicitor familiar with with this area as soon as you can.