Facebook moderators told to sing karaoke to cope with trauma of viewing graphic content

Irish Parliament calls for social media company to be held accountable

Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg leaves the Merrion Hotel in Dublin, Ireland, after meeting politicians to discuss regulation of social media and harmful content. Getty
Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg leaves the Merrion Hotel in Dublin, Ireland, after meeting politicians to discuss regulation of social media and harmful content. Getty

Irish politicians called for Facebook and its outsourcing firms to be held accountable for the mental trauma suffered by content moderators who police graphic posts.

On Wednesday, Ireland’s Parliament became the first to hear of the plight of the social media company’s moderators.

Isabela Plunkett, of Dublin, said employees were advised to sing karaoke or paint as a way of dealing with the trauma of viewing graphic content instead of being given psychiatric support.

Facebook content moderator Isabella Plunkett giving evidence to the Irish Parliament.
Facebook content moderator Isabella Plunkett giving evidence to the Irish Parliament.

She gave evidence to the Oireachtas Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment of the damage to Facebook employees, who are employed through outsourcing firms, whom she said were given less rights and support than in-house staff.

“I speak out today to make a difference. The mental health aspect ... the content is awful, it would affect anyone. It has started to get to me, I have horrible dreams about all the things I have seen,” she said.

“To help us cope they offer wellness coaches. These people may mean well but they are not doctors, they suggest karaoke and painting but sometimes you don’t always feel like singing when you’ve just seen someone being battered to bits."

Ms Plunkett said she and other moderators were "sick of being treated like second-class citizens" by Facebook, and said full-time staff were treated differently.

"Facebook’s pay is more than double mine," she said. "If our work is so important, then why are we not Facebook staff? Content moderation is Facebook’s core business and we should not be treated as disposable.

"I hope the committee will investigate this method of outsourcing. Mental health care is nowhere close to good enough. We cannot opt out of toxic content, unfortunately, and we are not given proper psychiatric care.”

She said there was a climate of fear with workers scared to speak out after being made to sign non-disclosure agreements on their first day of employment.

Facebook employs more than 15,000 moderators through outsourcing companies.

Paul Gavan, an Irish senator, called for action.

“What is happening here is appalling, this is the underbelly of our shiny new social media organisations,” he told the hearing.

Another senator, Marie Sherlock, said there had to be “clear actions” to tackle the issues raised at the hearing.

Committee chairman Maurice Quinlivan said the body would look to invite the firms to attend a committee hearing so the issues could be addressed.

“The committee will refresh and take forward aspects they believe they can progress further. We will look to invite the employers,” he said.

More than 30 moderators are taking legal action against Facebook and its outsourcing firms after allegedly suffering post-traumatic stress disorder from viewing explicit content.

Earlier this year, an investigation by The National revealed some moderators were traumatised by terrorist videos and feel they have not received adequate training or access to mental health professionals, unlike Facebook’s in-house staff.

Last year, Facebook agreed to pay $52 million to 11,250 current and former US moderators to compensate for mental health issues developed on the job.

Updated: May 12, 2021 09:03 PM

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