Facebook agrees $52m settlement with US content moderators

Facebook has agreed to pay $52m to settle a lawsuit with thousands of content moderators in the US who claimed they were left traumatised after having to watch highly disturbing content on the platform as part of their role. 

The lawsuit, filed in California in September 2018, alleged that the moderators were not given adequate protection against “severe psychological and other injuries” after repeatedly watching material including child sexual exploitation, terrorism and beheadings.

The settlement covers more than 10,000 current and former contractors in California, Arizona, Texas and Florida, who will each receive $1,000, according to a statement from their lawyers.

Those diagnosed with health conditions that arose because of their role, such as depression or post-traumatic stress disorder, could receive additional damages of as much as $50,000 plus funds to help cover their medical treatment, per the terms of the settlement.

“We are so pleased that Facebook worked with us to create an unprecedented programme to help people performing work that was unimaginable even a few years ago,” said Steve Williams, co-lead counsel at Joseph Saveri Law Firm. “The harm that can be suffered from this work is real and severe. This settlement will provide meaningful relief.”

The news follows mounting scrutiny of the working conditions of Facebook’s moderators, who are typically contracted on low pay through big consulting groups such as Accenture and sift through hundreds of images, videos and posts daily to adjudicate why they are objectionable.

About a year ago, Facebook said it would raise wages for moderators, and introduce “resiliency training”, mental health support and the ability for workers to blur images before they look at them.

In January, the Financial Times reported that content moderators at a European facility run by Accenture were required to sign a form explicitly acknowledging that their Facebook job could cause post-traumatic stress disorder. Facebook said at the time it had not reviewed or seen the form, while Accenture said there were “no consequences for not signing” the document.

As part of the settlement announced on Tuesday, Facebook agreed to provide mental health support such as counselling to moderators, and to overhaul the review process in order to make it safer for them to work.

A Facebook spokesperson said: “We are grateful to the people who do this important work to make Facebook a safe environment for everyone. We’re committed to providing them additional support through this settlement and in the future.” 

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