February 3, 2023

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Meta sees a moderation partner with “traumatizing” working conditions

Meta has severed ties with a subcontractor that provided moderators for its African markets just weeks before the tech giant is due to appear in a Kenyan court to face allegations of human trafficking and union busting.

The company has terminated a contract with outsourcing firm Sama, which former employee Daniel Motaung accused last year of “unreasonable working conditions” including irregular pay, inadequate psychological support and violations of workers’ privacy.

But conditions at the company poised to accept the meta-contract appear to be just as bad, if not worse. Meta has not confirmed which company will accept the new deal, but the Financial Times reported on Jan. 10 that it would likely be Majorel, a Luxembourg-based outsourcing company that already has content moderation deals with Meta in Morocco and has branches all over the world .

“The job is traumatizing and we get peanuts,” a Majorel employee in Nairobi who works as a content moderator for TikTok told WIRED. They described hours of viewing of graphic content of beheadings, mutilations and suicides for a monthly salary of less than 35,000 Kenyan shillings, or around US$281. “We can’t even maintain our normal lives.”

The description of the condition of the Majorel employee was confirmed by other moderators working at the company and messages in private social media groups viewed by WIRED.

Both TikTok and Meta moderators who have worked with Majorel described how they view hundreds of potentially traumatic images a day without the consultants’ support. TikTok moderators in Nairobi say performance-based bonuses, while possible, are hard to come by, and those who complained about working conditions felt like they were denied promotions and received poor reviews. Moderators at the Nairobi offices also complained that instead of receiving monthly payslips to confirm their salary, they were redirected to an online portal that was last updated in October.

Neither Meta nor Majorel responded to requests for comment.

Majorel employees, who spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid retaliation, told WIRED that Meta executives visited Majorel’s Nairobi office in mid-January and said employees were told the company had signed a Meta contract would accept.

Job postings on Fuzu.com, a platform for job postings in Africa, show that Majorel is currently hiring content moderators who speak Kirundi, Tigrinya, Oromo, Luganda, Kinyarwanda, Tswana, Afrikaans, Zulu, Amharic and Somali. Sama took over the moderation of Meta in most of these languages.

While working conditions at Sama, which is certified as a social enterprise, have been heavily criticized, the company paid moderators more than Majorel is offering to new hires, according to a person who was working on a meta-contract and spoke to WIRED on condition of anonymity. Sama moderators were paid around 60,000 Kenyan shillings (US$483) a month, which still made them the lowest-paid workers in Meta’s moderation networks.

A 2019 report by The Verge found that content moderators made $15 an hour in the US. In contrast, Sama employees were paid between $1.46 and $2.20 an hour. Previous reports revealed that presenters were making almost $2 an hour in India.