The Trauma Floor

The secret lives of Facebook moderators in America:

Collectively, the employees described a workplace that is perpetually teetering on the brink of chaos. It is an environment where workers cope by telling dark jokes about committing suicide, then smoke weed during breaks to numb their emotions. It's a place where employees can be fired for making just a few errors a week -- and where those who remain live in fear of the former colleagues who return seeking vengeance. [...] Where people develop severe anxiety while still in training, and continue to struggle with trauma symptoms long after they leave; and where the counseling that Cognizant offers them ends the moment they quit -- or are simply let go.

The moderators told me it's a place where the conspiracy videos and memes that they see each day gradually lead them to embrace fringe views. One auditor walks the floor promoting the idea that the Earth is flat. A former employee told me he has begun to question certain aspects of the Holocaust. Another former employee, who told me he has mapped every escape route out of his house and sleeps with a gun at his side, said: "I no longer believe 9/11 was a terrorist attack." [...]

Here is a racist joke. Here is a man having sex with a farm animal. Here is a graphic video of murder recorded by a drug cartel. [...] When Miguel has a question, he raises his hand, and a "subject matter expert" (SME) -- a contractor expected to have more comprehensive knowledge of Facebook's policies, who makes $1 more per hour than Miguel does -- will walk over and assist him. This will cost Miguel time, though, and while he does not have a quota of posts to review, managers monitor his productivity, and ask him to explain himself when the number slips into the 200s. [...]

It entrusts essential questions of speech and safety to people who are paid as if they were handling customer service calls for Best Buy. [...]

One QA, named Randy, would sometimes return to his car at the end of a work day to find moderators waiting for him. Five or six times over the course of a year, someone would attempt to intimidate him into changing his ruling. "They would confront me in the parking lot and tell me they were going to beat the shit out of me," he says. "There wasn't even a single instance where it was respectful or nice. It was just, You audited me wrong! That was a boob! That was full areola, come on man!"

Fearing for his safety, Randy began bringing a concealed gun to work. Fired employees regularly threatened to return to work and harm their old colleagues, and Randy believed that some of them were serious. A former coworker told me she was aware that Randy brought a gun to work, and approved of it, fearing on-site security would not be sufficient in the case of an attack. [...]

When I ask about the risks of contractors developing PTSD, a counselor I'll call Logan tells me about a different psychological phenomenon: "post-traumatic growth," an effect whereby some trauma victims emerge from the experience feeling stronger than before.

I've been reading this same story since before Google bought Youtube, so 14 years now at least? Good to see that it hasn't gotten any better at all.

If you want a vision of the future, imaging a 30 second clip of a boot stamping on a human face, looping forever.

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8 Responses:

  1. k3ninho says:

    >If you want a vision of the future, imaging a 30 second clip of a boot stamping on a human face, looping forever.

    Yessir, I'm imaging it.


    • Just in case anybody didn't catch the reference (yes, I'm aware of the irony in linking to youtube here):

      • NT says:

        The US is closer to Brave New World than 1984 though - bread and circuses are more cost-effective than jackboots. There's lots of room for improvement in robotics, of course.

        Orwell's other work still stands too. It's a shame that SF's would-be revolutionaries don't spend more time discussing Animal Farm, for example.

        And Orwell didn't live to see 4chan and Twitter, but they are the Idiocracy-like endpoint of the trend described in Politics and the English Language (it's a slog though).

  2. Cat Mara says:

    When I ask about the risks of contractors developing PTSD, a counselor I’ll call Logan tells me about a different psychological phenomenon: “post-traumatic growth,” an effect whereby some trauma victims emerge from the experience feeling stronger than before. The example he gives me is that of Malala Yousafzai, the women’s education activist, who was shot in the head as a teenager by the Taliban.

    “That’s an extremely traumatic event that she experienced in her life,” Logan says. “It seems like she came back extremely resilient and strong. She won a Nobel Peace Prize... So there are many examples of people that experience difficult times and come back stronger than before.”

    When life hands you trauma-lemons, make trauma-lemonade! You might get a Nobel Prize out of it! 👍 #yolo #winning #etc

    Pray excuse me, I must find my eyeballs, they appear to rolled clear out of my skull.

  3. ennui says:

    moderation is one of those things like "security" where you can't just throw programmer-hours (or moderator-hours) at it: you actually have to have a model of the problem you are trying to solve and having a good model might not even depend on any particular knowledge of computers at all.

    "flag and review" only really works for small groups of people with very similar opinions about everything. you can see this all work out at a small scale in the way the 2016 election destroyed Metafilter (it was already dying for other reasons). the politics "megathreads" degenerated into a weird stew of conspiracy theories and catastrophizing not unlike YouTube, except created by an algorithm out what is really a fairly homogeneous group of tech adjacent people...

  4. zoidbergnotwhy says:

    these people are being used like meme-engulfing macrophages, jumping on grenades of trauma, saving the rest of the body of humanity. it's inspiring and horrifying at the same time. we really do need to eradicate all of social media. they are to information what Superfund sites are to real estate. nobody should have to have a job like this.

  5. Cute:

    Moderators in Phoenix will make just $28,800 per year — while the average Facebook employee has a total compensation of $240,000.

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