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A Facebook content moderation vendor is quitting the business after two Verge investigations

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Moderators complained of filthy offices and severe mental health strain

Illustration by Alex Castro / Th

The professional services firm Cognizant will exit the content moderation business after two Verge investigations into working conditions at sites dedicated to Facebook, the companies said today. Cognizant had hired thousands of moderators around the world to remove hate speech, terrorism, and other inappropriate content from platforms including Facebook, Google, and Twitter.

“We have determined that certain content work in our Digital Operations practice is not in line with our strategic vision for the company and we intend to exit this work over time,” the company told The Verge in a statement. “This work is largely focused on determining whether certain content violates client standards — and can involve objectionable materials.”

Cognizant will honor its remaining contracts but will wind down its commitments over the course of 2020, the company said.

In February, The Verge published an investigation into working conditions at the company’s site in Phoenix. Moderators at the site described being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress syndrome after being subjected to a daily onslaught of graphic and disturbing images. Others said they had come to embrace fringe viewpoints after seeing videos about conspiracy theories on a regular basis. Multiple employees reporting fearing for their safety after being threatened by coworkers.

A follow-up report in June focused on a site in Tampa, FL, where moderators broke their non-disclosure agreements to describe a pattern of mistreatment by managers. They described working in offices that were often filthy, and where cases of sexual harassment had resulted in multiple complaints being filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The Phoenix and Tampa sites will both close after March 1st, Facebook told The Verge in a statement. “Cognizant and Facebook are committed to a smooth transition during this period of change,” a Facebook spokesman said.

Cognizant said that people who lose their jobs would be offered “retention bonuses, severance packages, and the opportunity to participate in various reskilling programs.” It’s unclear whether they will be offered other jobs within Cognizant.

Cognizant “makes up a small percentage of Facebook’s global content review efforts,” the spokesman said. Facebook said it would increase the number of moderators it has working at a site in Texas, which is operated by Genpact.

“One of the reasons we work with partners is to be able to make adjustments quickly to ensure Facebook remains safe for people,” the spokesman said. “Cognizant’s content reviewers have played a valuable role in keeping our platforms safe for people all over the world and we thank them for the work they’ve done and continue to do.”