It’s no secret that the workforce tasked with reviewing the most offensive content on the web is underpaid, overworked, and poorly supported. A new story from The Verge on Facebook moderators in Phoenix, Arizona further illustrates the disturbing reality of life for these workers—who reportedly make just $28,800 a year and use sex and drugs to deal with the stress.
The report published on Monday detailed the experiences of current and former employees who worked at professional services company Cognizant, a company they say Facebook outsources its moderating efforts to. (The Verge used pseudonyms for all the workers interviewed, who say non-disclosure agreements were written to bar them from discussing Cognizant’s work with Facebook.) According to the report, employees experienced severe mental health distress, which they coped with by having sex at the office and smoking weed. Some even began believing the conspiracy theories they were tasked with reviewing. One quality assurance manager said he began bringing a gun to work in response to threats from fired workers.
“There was nothing that they were doing for us,” one former moderator told The Verge, “other than expecting us to be able to identify when we’re broken. Most of the people there that are deteriorating—they don’t even see it. And that’s what kills me.”
“Randy,” a quality assurance worker at Cognizant charged with reviewing posts flagged by moderators, said that several times over his year at the company he was approached and intimidated by moderators to change his decisions. “They would confront me in the parking lot and tell me they were going to beat the shit out of me,” Randy told The Verge. He also said that fired Cognizant employees made what he believed to be genuine threats of harm to their former colleagues. Randy started to bring a concealed gun to the office to protect himself.
Employees told The Verge that moderators in the Phoenix office dealt with the hellish reality of their jobs by having sex in the office—in stairwells, bathrooms, parking garages, and a lactation room—smoking weed on breaks, and joking about suicide. A former moderator claimed that there was a joke among colleagues that “time to go hang out on the roof” was subtext for wanting to jump off the building.