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Facebook content moderators call for company to put an end to overly restrictive NDAs

‘No NDA can lawfully prevent us from speaking out about our working conditions’

Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Facebook content moderators in Europe and the US are calling on the company to put an end to overly restrictive nondisclosure agreements that discourage people from speaking out about working conditions. In a letter addressed to Mark Zuckerberg, Sheryl Sandberg, and the CEOs of Covalen and Accenture, moderators say these NDAs aren’t limited to user data and help perpetuate a culture of “excessive secrecy.”

“Despite the company’s best efforts to keep us quiet, we write to demand the company’s culture of fear and excessive secrecy ends today,” the moderators write. “No NDA can lawfully prevent us from speaking out about our working conditions.”

The news comes amid escalating tension between the company and its contract content moderators in Ireland. In May, a moderator named Isabella Plunkett testified before a parliamentary committee to try to push for legislative change.

“The content that is moderated is awful,” she said. “It would affect anyone ... To help, they offer us wellness coaches. These people mean really well, but they are not doctors. They suggest karaoke and painting, but frankly, one does not always feel like singing, after having seen someone be battered to bits.”

The letter asks that the company give moderators regular access to clinical psychiatrists and psychologists. “Imagine watching hours of violent content or children abuse online as part of your day to day work,” they write. “You cannot be left unscathed. This job must not cost us our mental health.”

Moderators also want to be brought in-house, saying the current system makes them second-class citizens. They’re calling on the company to give them the same pay and benefits as full-time Facebook moderators.

The letter currently has 60 signatures from moderators in Dublin, Lisbon, and Barcelona — as well as parts of the US. It was written in collaboration with Foxglove, a UK nonprofit focused on tech justice.

“Facebook content moderators worldwide work grueling shifts wading through a never-ending flood of the worst material on the internet,” wrote Foxglove director Martha Dark in a statement. “Yet, moderators don’t get proper, meaningful, clinical long term mental health support, they have to sign highly restrictive NDAs to keep them quiet about what they’ve seen and the vast majority of the workforce are employed through outsourcing companies where they don’t receive anywhere near the same support and benefits Facebook gives its own staff.”

In a statement, Facebook pushed back against the idea that moderators don’t have access to mental health care. “We recognize that reviewing content can be a difficult job, which is why we work with partners who support their employees through training and psychological support when working with challenging content,” a spokesperson said. “In Ireland, this includes 24/7 on-site support with trained practitioners, an on-call service, and access to private healthcare from the first day of employment. We also use technology to limit their exposure to graphic material as much as possible.”

An Accenture spokesperson acknowledged that the company does not provide clinical medical services, but noted employees do have access to other mental health support. “We view the well-being of our people in a holistic manner, with mental health being one aspect of support,” they said. “Our wellness coaches are licensed and trained to recognize common issues in this area, but they do not provide clinical or medical services. Our employee assistance program, on the other hand, provides free access to mental health support, including access to licensed and trained mental health counselors.”

Update July 23, 2:51PM EST: This article was updated with a statement from Accenture.