In a landmark acknowledgment of the toll that content moderation takes on its workforce, Facebook has agreed to pay $52 million to current and former moderators to compensate them for mental health issues developed on the job. In a preliminary settlement filed on Friday in San Mateo Superior Court, the social network agreed to pay damages to American moderators and provide more counseling to them while they work.
Each moderator will receive a minimum of $1,000 and will be eligible for additional compensation if they are diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder or related conditions. The settlement covers 11,250 moderators, and lawyers in the case believe that as many as half of them may be eligible for extra pay related to mental health issues associated with their time working for Facebook, including depression and addiction.
“We are so pleased that Facebook worked with us to create an unprecedented program to help people performing work that was unimaginable even a few years ago,” said Steve Williams, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, in a statement. “The harm that can be suffered from this work is real and severe.”
In September 2018, former Facebook moderator Selena Scola sued Facebook, alleging that she developed PTSD after being placed in a role that required her to regularly view photos and images of rape, murder, and suicide. Scola developed symptoms of PTSD after nine months on the job. The complaint, which was ultimately joined by several other former Facebook moderators working in four states, alleged that Facebook had failed to provide them with a safe workspace.
Scola was part of a wave of moderators hired in the aftermath of the 2016 US presidential election when Facebook was criticized for failing to remove harmful content from the platform. The company hired several large consulting firms, including Accenture, Cognizant, Genpact, and ProUnlimited to bring on thousands of contractors in the United States to do the job.
Last year, The Verge found that moderators hired through Cognizant were working in dire conditions in Phoenix and Tampa. For an annual salary as low as $28,800, moderators were placed into a high-stakes environment that demanded near-perfect accuracy in navigating Facebook’s ever-changing content policies, while being subjected to imagery that could sometimes begin to haunt their dreams within weeks.
Several moderators told The Verge that they had been diagnosed with PTSD after working for Facebook. Later in the year, Cognizant announced that it would leave the content moderation business and shut down its sites earlier this year.
Under the terms of the settlement, every moderator will receive $1,000 that can be spent however they like. But the companies intend for the money to be spent partly on medical treatment, covering the costs associated with seeking a diagnosis related to any mental health issues the moderator may be suffering.
The amount of money a moderator will receive beyond the initial $1,000 will depend on their diagnosis. Anyone who is diagnosed with a mental health condition is eligible for an additional $1,500, and people who receive multiple concurrent diagnoses — PTSD and depression, for example — could be eligible for up to $6,000.
In addition to payment for treatment, moderators with a qualifying diagnosis will be eligible to submit evidence of other injuries they suffered for their time at Facebook and could receive up to $50,000 in damages.
The exact amount of the payout depends on how many members of the class apply for benefits, and it could shrink significantly if the majority of the class is found to be eligible for benefits.
In the settlement, Facebook also agrees to roll out changes to its content moderation tools designed to reduce the impact of viewing harmful images and videos. The tools, which include muting audio by default and changing videos to black and white, will be rolled out to 80 percent of moderators by the end of this year and 100 percent of moderators by 2021.
Moderators who view graphic and disturbing content on a daily basis will also get access to weekly, one-on-one coaching sessions with a licensed mental health professional. Workers who are experiencing a mental health crisis will get access to a licensed counselor within 24 hours, and Facebook will also make monthly group therapy sessions available to moderators.
Other changes Facebook will require of its vendors include:
The preliminary settlement covers moderators working in California, Arizona, Texas, and Florida from 2015 until now. Members of the class will now have time to comment on the proposed settlement and request changes before it receives final approval from a judge. That is expected to happen by the end of this year, lawyers involved in the case said.
“We are grateful to the people who do this important work to make Facebook a safe environment for everyone,” Facebook said in a statement. “We’re committed to providing them additional support through this settlement and in the future.”