Report: Facebook Content Mods Say Company Therapists Were Pressured to Share Session Details

Photo: Matt Rourke (AP)

Adding to an already ridiculously long list of complaints, now Facebook’s content moderators say a higher-up asked company-appointed counselors to share information from their sessions, according to a new report from the Intercept.

Numerous investigations have described this workforce as notoriously underpaid and overworked in crappy working conditions that require them to scan through some of the most disturbing posts the internet can offer. You know, all the things it might behoove someone to see a therapist about.

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This most recent criticism comes from a site in Austin, Texas, led by Accenture, an independent contractor Facebook hired to oversee 1,500 of its content moderators. Accenture and Facebook also employ trauma counselors, a.k.a. “wellness coaches,” to help staff cope after screening all that potentially graphic content to judge whether it violates the company’s terms of service.

But while both parties involved in these counseling sessions understood them to be private, a letter written by several whistleblowers claims that Accenture has made several attempts since July to review what was discussed. This letter, published by the Intercept with potentially identifying information redacted, reads in part:

It has come to our attention that an Accenture [manager] pressured a WeCare licensed counselor to divulge the contents of their session with an Accenture employee. The counselor refused, stating confidentiality concerns, but the [manager] pressed on by stating that because this was not a clinical setting, confidentiality did not exist. The counselor again refused. This pressuring of a licensed counselor to divulge confidential information is at best a careless breach of trust into the Wellness program and, at worst, an ethics and possible legal violation.

What exactly this Accenture executive wanted to know isn’t clear, the Intercept reported. The letter calls for this manager’s removal and claims at least one therapist resigned after being pressured to reveal information disclosed during one of these counseling sessions.

An outsourcing manager later told employees that Facebook had conducted an internal investigation into the matter and found “no violation or breach of trust between our licensed counselors and a contracted employee,” per the Intercept, though the incident did prompt the company to “refresh” the team’s “wellness coaches” on what they “can and can’t share.”

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When Gizmodo reached out to Facebook about this report, a spokesperson reiterated the same company statement it provided the Intercept, which you can read below:

“All of our partners must provide a resiliency plan that is reviewed and approved by Facebook. This includes a holistic approach to wellbeing and resiliency that puts the needs of their employees first. All leaders and wellness coaches receive training on this employee resource and while we do not believe that there was a breach of privacy in this case, we have used this as an opportunity to reemphasize that training across the organization.”

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Accenture also added the following in the report:

“These allegations are inaccurate. Our people’s wellbeing is our top priority and our trust-and-safety teams in Austin have unrestricted access to wellness support. Additionally, our wellness program offers proactive and on-demand counseling and is backed by a strong employee assistance program. Our people are actively encouraged to raise wellness concerns through these programs. We also review, benchmark and invest in our wellness programs on an ongoing basis to create the most supportive workplace environment – regularly seeking input from industry experts, medical professionals and our people.”

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After coming under fire for other employee criticisms, Facebook announced in May that it would be improving pay and benefits for a portion of its content moderators. However, a recent Verge article covering a Tampa, Florida site (the same one where an employee purportedly died at his desk) still described a grim and chaotic workplace, indicating—along with this new Intercept report—that Facebook may still be ignoring the root of its moderator problem.

[The Intercept]

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About the author

Alyse Stanley

Gizmodo weekend editor. Freelance video game reporter. Full-time disaster bi.