While Facebook was quick to implement work from home directives quite early in the COVID 19 pandemic, it looks like the implementation was not uniform. According to a report by Rest of World, a non-profit publication, content moderators in India were asked to return to work in office by their employer and third-party contractor, Genpact, ignoring COVID-19 concerns. The employees were pressured into making this decision, as the contractor was taking advantage of an economic crisis.
Genpact claimed that certain important aspects of its moderation service cannot be performed anywhere but at the office due to privacy concerns and technical difficulties. This is why, according to Genpact, the employees were urged to return to the office in Hyderabad.
The contractor also claims that all the office work was voluntary, suggesting that the employees had a say in deciding whether to return to the office for work. But the employees who spoke with Rest of World, say otherwise. According to the report, the employees are unhappy and fear that they might lose their jobs.
The lockdown was first imposed in Hyderabad on March 22. The majority of the world, at this time was making a shift towards working from home. But IT workers in India returned to work in-office within two months from the first lockdown.
Facebook outsources its moderators all across the globe using third-party contractors like Genpact, and these moderators unfortunately do not receive the same benefits as corporate employees. The social media company has about 1,600 working moderators in India, and about 15,000 all over the world.
The moderators’ job is to go through sensitive content which was reported on the platform, and flag the content which violates Facebook’s rules. ‘Sensitive content’ is a very broad term which can include images and videos depicting violence, gore, sexual-abuse, pedophilia and so on and so forth. Watching such disturbing content on a regular basis can have severe mental health consequences such as anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.
The ill treatment of employees of the third-party Facebook contractors and the working conditions having mental-health implications has recently come under scrutiny. There have been multiple reports of Facebook moderators suffering from mental-health issues which are directly caused by their moderating work. Facebook, in a settlement, even agreed to pay $52 million to its content moderators suffering from PTSD.
Facebook has promised to improve how the moderators are treated and make a shift towards content moderation powered by AI, but says that it will still require human intervention in some aspects. This new report of employees being pressurized into returning to office ignoring the dangers of COVID-19, though, points towards a different direction than what was promised.