According to a report in The Verge, content moderators at Facebook are suffering a brutal psychological toll due to being tasked with sifting through an endless river of potentially offensive and graphic material, so much so that they are resorting to using drugs and having sex on the job in order to cope.
The workers, based in an Arizona facility, are paid $15 an hour to view potentially graphic photos and videos and review potentially offensive writings like jokes, possible threats, and other posts. According to the report, the daily barrage of such mind-numbingly toxic material is causing the workers to manifest symptoms resembling post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, much like combat military personnel experience.
Indeed, considering they are asked to spend the entire day reviewing videos of stabbings, beatings, beheadings, bizarre sex videos, and the most vitriolic racist, misogynist and homophobic jokes and screeds imaginable – all while under the threat of losing a job with zero benefits for even just a handful of errors each week – it’s easy to see why the workers are stressed.
The employees report that they are given 30 minutes for lunch and two 15-minute breaks throughout the course of the day, as well as a nine-minute allotment of “wellness time” each day. That’s time that the workers are allowed to step away from their desks if they need a moment to collect themselves or are feeling traumatized due to the material they are reviewing.
But that trauma is so extensive that many workers reported getting high most of the day, and what one called “drinking to forget.”
“I can’t even tell you how many people I’ve smoked with,” said one former moderator, who went by the name Li for the article. “We’d go down and get stoned and go back to work. That’s not professional. Knowing that the content moderators for the world’s biggest social media platform are doing this on the job.”
“We were doing something that was darkening our soul — or whatever you call it. What else do you do at that point?”
Another activity the workers reported as common was on-the-job sex, another coping mechanism often manifested in people suffering from PTSD. Workers have been caught having sex in the bathroom stalls, the stairways, the parking garage, and even a room reserved for lactating mothers. This became so common that management finally removed the locks from the mothers’ rooms. One former employee said the on-the-job sex was a side effect of the stress of the job as well as the secrecy surrounding it.
“You get really close to your co-workers really quickly,” said Sarah. “If you’re not allowed to talk to your friends or family about your job, that’s going to create some distance. You might feel closer to these people. It feels like an emotional connection, when in reality you’re just trauma bonding.”
The workers also reported that the constant barrage of the worst content on the internet can actually change the person’s thinking, with some reporting that over time some moderators became Holocaust deniers, flat-earth believers or Sandy Hook “truthers.”
For its part, Facebook notes that counselors are available to the workers, at least part of the day, and that the company works diligently to uphold certain standards of “well-being and support.”