In an effort to minimize hate speech, violence and porn, Facebook has employed contractors to sift through and police offensive content from being featured. However, the repeated exposure to this content has these employees facing increased concerns about their mental health.

Facebook mental health controversy

On Monday, February 25th, Facebook defended outsourcing this work to companies such as Accenture and Cognizant. However, the world’s largest social network acknowledged the conditions could be improved for these contractors, where some had reportedly suffered symptoms resembling post-traumatic stress disorder.

“A lot of the recent questions are focused on ensuring the people working in these roles are treated fairly and with respect,” said Justin Osofsky, Facebook’s VP of Global Operations, in a post made public after it was initially shared with employees. “We want to continue to hear from our content reviewers, our partners and even the media — who hold us accountable and give us the opportunity to improve.”

Facebook’s response came following a report from The Verge suggested that Cognizant employees who were policing the content turned to sex, drugs and dark humor in the workplace as a coping mechanism after exposure to unsettling content such as suicides and violence. Some of Cognizant’s employees even started to believe the conspiracy theories found in the videos they were moderating. The report also suggested the Cognizant employees were compensated very modestly, making about $28,800 per year.

Facebook's mental health controversy

One former employee insisted that he started to believe conspiracy theories, such as 9/11 wasn’t a terrorist attack, after moderating that content. The employee also admitted to bringing a gun to work and still sleeps with it nearby because disgruntled former employees that were fired threatened to harm Cognizant employees. Employees are given “wellness time” and breaks, but six employees told The Verge the resources were insufficient. Stress was pushing employees to their limits, where some turned to having sex in the bathroom stalls, stairwells, and other places to cope with the gravity of what they were exposed to, according to the report.

A Cognizant spokeswoman said in a statement that the company offers its employees support through a wellness program, onsite counselors, and other tools.

“We have investigated the specific workplace issues raised in a recent report, previously taken action where necessary and have steps in place to continue to address these concerns and any others raised by our employees,” Cognizant said.

Facebook is no stranger to scrutiny in how it moderates content. Last year, a class-action lawsuit was filed by a content moderator against Facebook accusing the company of not doing enough to protect the mental health of the workers. News outlets, including WiredThe Wall Street Journal, and Motherboard have also reported on the challenges that content moderators deal with after reviewing alarming content.

In publicizing the blog post, Facebook wanted to assure employees that it’s been taking steps to address these concerns.

Facebook's mental health controversy

Soeren Stache/Getty Images

In the post, Facebook said they have clear contracts and regularly visit sites to monitor workplace conditions. They also said they conduct business reviews with staffing firms that includes how they’ll support the wellness of their employees.

Facebook added that it will also conduct audits of all partnering companies, standardize its contracts and also hold an event that brings together all partners.

Contractors are also able to report concerns to their employers’ human resource department or to Facebook anonymously through a whistle blower hotline.

“Put simply, after a couple of years of very rapid growth, we’re now further upgrading our work in this area to continue to operate effectively and improve at this size,” Osofsky stated in the post shared with employees.

Facebook currently has about 15,000 content reviewers that moderate content for its 2.3 billion users.

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