Moderators at the social media giant’s Africa hub earn $1.50 an hour while working ‘day and night’, Time magazine has revealed
Facebook content moderators in Africa are among the lowest paid employees of the social media giant, but have to deal with disturbing content that creates a kind of “mental torture” and “trauma,” Time magazine said in an investigation published this week.
The US tech giant has outsourced content moderation across sub-Saharan Africa to a company named “Sama” which operates an office on the outskirts of Kenya’s capital Nairobi. The building houses hundreds of people who have to work “day and night,” depending on the weather.
Sama describes itself as a company providing “worthy digital work” and claims to have lifted over 50,000 people in developing countries out of poverty.
The company also has deals with other US tech giants like Google, Microsoft and retail giant Walmart.
Since 2019, the Nairobi office has been Facebook’s moderation center in sub-Saharan Africa. Staff review and remove illegal content before ordinary Facebook users can see it. The content includes videos of murders, rapes, suicides and child sexual abuse, according to Time.
“The work we do is a kind of mental torture”, an employee still working for Sama told Time. The magazine said it was aware of at least two moderators who quit their posts after being diagnosed with mental health issues, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety and depression. “Many others” told the outlet that they were unable to get formal diagnoses due to lack of access to mental health services.
Sama employs “wellness counselors” but employees told Time that they distrust these specialists and that requests for “wellness breaks” were often refused for fear that they would affect productivity.
Despite a corporate culture characterized by “Mental trauma, intimidation and alleged suppression of the right to organize”, Employees at the Nairobi office are among the lowest paid Facebook employees in the world, Time said, adding that some of them earned just $1.50 an hour.
“All I live for is day to day. I can’t save a penny,” said an employee. A planned strike by moderators in Nairobi demanding better wages and working conditions in 2019 was also prevented by Sama leaders, who fired the would-be strike leader. At the time, Sama allegedly told the employees that they were “consumable.” The company denies that a strike or industrial action ever took place.
Facebook periodically sends its own employees to Nairobi to monitor Sama’s operations, Time said. However, he added that the stories of Sama workers “raise serious questions about whether Facebook…is exploiting the very people it depends on to keep its platform secure.”
Facebook employs more than 15,000 content moderators worldwide. Most of them are hired by third parties like Sama. Responding to questions from Time, the US tech giant said it was taking its “responsibility to people who seriously review the content of Meta” and asks its partners “to provide industry-leading pay, benefits and support.”
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