The petition, also filed against Sama, a local outsourcing company Meta, alleges that workers who moderate Facebook posts in Kenya have been subjected to unreasonable working conditions, including irregular pay, inadequate mental health support, union busting, and violations of their privacy and dignity.
The lawsuit, filed by one person on behalf of the group, seeks financial compensation, an order that outsourced moderators have the same medical care and pay scale as Meta employees, protection of unionization rights, and an independent review of human rights in the office.
A Meta spokesperson told Reuters: “We take responsibility for the people who seriously review Meta content and demand the best pay, benefits and support in the industry from our partners. We also encourage reviewers to raise issues when they become aware of them and to conduct regular independent reviews to ensure that our partners are up to the high standards we expect.”
Sama declined to comment before reviewing the lawsuit, but had previously dismissed claims that its employees were being paid unfairly, that the hiring process was opaque, or that its mental health benefits were insufficient.
The specific requests for action to be taken are more detailed and broad than those requested in previous cases and may reverberate outside of Kenya.
“It could have a ripple effect. Facebook will have a lot to say about how they run their moderation operation,” said Odanga Madung of the Mozilla Foundation, a US-based global nonprofit dedicated to online rights.
Thousands of moderators around the world view social media posts that may contain images of violence, nudity, racism or other offensive content. Many work for outside contractors rather than technology companies.
Meta has already encountered a review of the conditions of work of content moderators.
Last year, a California judge approved an $85 million settlement between Facebook and more than 10,000 content moderators who accused the company of failing to protect them from the trauma of being exposed to graphic and violent images.
Facebook admitted no wrongdoing in the California case, but agreed to take steps to provide its content moderators employed by third-party vendors with safer working conditions.
The Kenyan lawsuit was filed on behalf of Daniel Motaung, who was recruited in 2019 from South Africa to work for Samu in Nairobi. Motaung says he was not given details about the nature of the job of viewing Facebook posts prior to his arrival.
Motaung remembers that the first video he moderated was a beheading. Disturbing content has been piling up, but Motaung says his salary and mental health support were inadequate.
“I have been diagnosed with severe PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder),” Motaung told Reuters. “I live … horror movie.”
Lawyers for Motaung said Meta and Sama created a dangerous and humiliating environment in which workers were not afforded the same protections as workers in other countries.
“If people in Dublin can’t watch dangerous content for two hours, that should be the rule everywhere,” said Motaung’s attorney Mercy Mutemi. “If they need an on-call psychologist, this should apply everywhere.”
Shortly after joining Sama, Motaung attempted to form a union to protect the company’s approximately 200 workers in Nairobi.
Shortly thereafter, he was fired, which he and his lawyers said was due to an attempted unionization. Trade union rights are enshrined in the constitution of Kenya.
She has not commented on this claim.
Motaung’s experience was first revealed in an investigation published by Time magazine in February.