A group of Facebook moderators has joined many of the firm’s staff in calling out CEO Mark Zuckerberg over his bullshit refusal to take actions against posts by Donald Trump that clearly violate its rules, the Guardian reported on Monday.
Per the Guardian, the moderators—who work for the company as part of its army of third-party contractors who receive less labor protections—wrote in an open letter that they would join staffers who have held virtual walkouts if not for their tenuous employment position.
Competitor Twitter has taken the step of slapping labels on some of Trump’s tweets, adding a fact check to a Trump tweet advancing baseless conspiracy theories about voting by mail in May. It also hid a tweet in which the president called for the military to shoot protesters staging largely peaceful demonstrations against police brutality and racism in the wake of the police killing of Minneapolis man George Floyd. It has also . Trump posted identical messages to Facebook, which hasn’t even taken similar baby steps in response. Instead, Zuckerberg attacked Twitter’s fact checking decision in a Fox News appearance, saying Facebook “shouldn’t be the arbiter of truth of everything that people say online.” Facebook also refused to take any action against the Trump post threatening violence against protesters, and it’s continued to stand by its policy of allowing politicians to lie in ads.
(Zuckerberg has since said Facebook will review its policies but didn’t commit to any changes.)
In the letter, released in coordination with legal nonprofit Foxglove, current and former Facebook moderators wrote that their positions as moderators was critical to the platform, but that Zuckerberg’s refusal to hold Trump to the same standard as other users undermined Facebook policies. It also, they argued, plays directly into the White House’s hands.
“We would also like to express our solidarity with Facebook workers organizing the virtual walkout and protesting against a lack of adequate action from Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook leadership, after president Donald Trump posted a message threatening and inciting violence against Black Lives Matter demonstrators,” the wrote. “We know how important Facebook’s policies are because it’s our job to enforce them.”
The moderators added that non-disclosure agreements signed as conditions of employment “deter us from speaking openly about what we do and witness for most of our waking hours,” as well as “prevent us from voicing concerns and contributing to the public discussion about inevitable ethical challenges connected to the job.” They also wrote that their status as contractors made it impossible to engage in a coordinated walkout without risking their jobs, which would put them at financial risk or in some cases threaten their legal status in a country.
“Current events prove we cannot passively accept our role of silent algorithm facilitators—not when our screens are being flooded with hate speech,” the moderators wrote. “... Mr. Zuckerberg’s words about personal dismay caused by Trump’s ‘looting and shooting’ rhetoric are not enough—especially not when so many of his employees recognize it as a blatant violation of the spirit of the violence and incitement policy; as a call to action no ‘newsworthiness’ is able to justify.”
“Trump knows what he is doing,” they concluded, saying Trump had enjoyed “unparalleled” favored treatment by Facebook: “This may be the ultimate exhibit of white exceptionality and further legitimization of state brutality we have witnessed in the last weeks.”
Facebook moderators, who deal with a slew of vile content flooding in from the platform’s hundreds of millions of users when automated systems don’t detect it, have long alleged second-class treatment by their employers. Last month, Facebook settled a lawsuit with 11,250 current and former moderators for $52 million, entitling them to a minimum of $1,000 and additional earnings of up to $1,500 in the event they are diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. Others diagnosed with multiple conditions could receive up to $6,000.
Labor conditions for moderators at contracting services like Cognizant are reportedly awful, with grueling workload expectations and constant exposure to materials that could cause or worsen mental illness. The lawsuit claimed that workers were routinely asked to witness “broadcasts of child sexual abuse, rape, torture, bestiality, beheadings, suicide, and murder,” among other unpleasant material, with Facebook doing little to improve conditions.
“We are definitely seeing more difficult content in our [moderation] queues recently,” one of the moderators told the Guardian. “We are seeing a lot of police brutality—the images we are seeing from the US are just terrible. My colleague told me they are quitting the queues today because they saw three videos from the protests in a row and they can’t handle it.”
Looking for ways to advocate for black lives? Check out this list of resources by our sister site Lifehacker for ways to get involved.