Cleanup or be sued: Former Facebook content moderator tells Facebook
Facebook faces an imminent lawsuit over unsafe and unfair working conditions at its Nairobi content moderation hub unless it accepts workers’ twelve demands for fair treatment, a legal letter sent on behalf of a former content moderator says.
The letter puts Facebook and ‘ethical AI’ firm Sama – Facebook’s main subcontractor for content moderation in much of Africa – on notice of forthcoming legal action for violating the rights of both Kenyan and international staff.
The claimant in the case, Daniel Motaung, is a former Facebook moderator who led over 100 colleagues to stand up against dangerous and exploitative working conditions at Sama Nairobi in 2019. In retaliation for his organising work, he was fired.
Daniel’s story recently featured in Inside Facebook’s African Sweatshop, a front-page exposé in TIME magazine about exploitation and union-busting at Sama, Nairobi. Kenyan law forbids punishing workers for seeking to organise or negotiate with management for better terms.
Content moderators like Daniel are the most important and least-discussed aspect of Facebook’s global operations. Their job is to sift through the social media posts of Facebook’s nearly 3 billion monthly users and remove posts that violate its rules – such as graphic violence, hate, and misinformation.
Moderators, and the conditions in which they work, are the foundation of a healthy social media ecosystem.
Facebook subcontracts most of this work to companies like Sama – a practice that keeps Facebook’s profit margins high but at the cost of thousands of moderators’ health – and the safety of Facebook worldwide. Sama moderators report ongoing violations, including conditions which are unsafe, degrading, and pose a risk of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Sama targets young people from poorer families with adverts for content moderation jobs. Many workers from outside the country do not receive permanent work visas, which means they can’t open bank accounts in Kenya.
TIME revealed moderators from Kenya miss out on a monthly relocation bonus paid to staff from outside the country, worth $1.46 per hour, after tax. Bosses also warned Kenyan moderators they were more easily replaceable than staff from outside the country, which many took as a threat of being fired.
The Kenyan case comes amid increased concern about the risk that Facebook will be used to foment hatred and incite violence in the run-up to Kenya’s August 2022 elections.
The letter, sent on Daniel’s behalf by Nzili and Sumbi Advocates, requires Facebook and Sama to comply with twelve specific demands about workplace conditions in twenty-one days or be taken to court.
Mercy Mutemi, lead counsel in the Kenyan legal action, said: “I use Facebook, like many Kenyans, and it’s an important place to discuss the news. But that is why this case is so important. The very safety and integrity of our democratic process in Kenya depends on a Facebook that is properly staffed, and where content moderators, the front-line workers against hate and misinformation, have the support they need to protect us all. This isn’t an ordinary labour case – the working conditions for Facebook moderators affect all Kenyans.”
Daniel Motaung, the former content moderator taking Facebook and Sama to court, said: “The violence I witnessed working for Facebook changed my life – I’m determined not to let Facebook damage others in the same way. I’m bringing this case for all the colleagues I left behind and for everyone who relies on Facebook to read the news and seek the truth. Facebook is one of the richest companies in the world and engages in colonial exploitation in Africa just to keep its profit margins high. And Sama, which claims to be ‘ethical’, is really a wolf in sheep’s clothing, exploiting impoverished Kenyans and other Africans under the guise of social uplift. We must force these companies to clean up their act.”