A suit was filed today against American social media giant Meta and Sama, its main subcontractor for content moderation in Africa, over claims of exploitation and union busting.
A law firm, representing Daniel Motaung, a former content moderator and Facebook whistleblower allegedly laid off for organizing a 2019 strike and trying to unionize the subcontractor’s employees, claims that Meta and Sama “subjected current and former content moderators to forced labor and human trafficking for labor.”
In the application, the law firm said Sama also carried out a “deceptive recruitment process” by opening up vacancies that failed to mention the nature of the job that successful applicants would do. The moderators at the Nairobi hub are sourced from a number of countries, including Ethiopia, Uganda and Somalia. Motaung is from South Africa.
The lawsuit is seeking financial compensation on behalf of former and existing moderators, and also wants Sama and Meta compelled to stop union busting, and made to provide mental health support amongst other demands made.
“The varying descriptions (call center agents, agent and content moderator) for the position of a content moderator are deceptive and designed to trick unsuspecting applicants into unknowingly becoming Facebook Content Moderators. Applicants who responded to the call for 'Agents' were especially deceived,” Nzuli and Nsumbi advocates said in the case filed before the court.
It also implied that content moderators were subjected to unfair labor relations and were not granted adequate mental health support. And that Sama allowed a "toxic work environment" that prevented moderators from sharing the nature of the job and their experiences at Sama with third parties, including Meta's employees.
"The Respondents (Meta and Sama) have intentionally created a toxic environment at their Nairobi office. This is designed to keep the Facebook Content Moderators from airing their grievances," said the law firm.
The moderators sift through social media posts on all its platforms, including Facebook, to remove those perpetrating and perpetuating hate, misinformation and violence. The law firm also claims that productivity of Sama’s employees is tracked using Meta’s software — to measure employee screen time and movement during work hours.
The suit follows a Time story that detailed how Sama recruited the moderators under the false pretext that they were taking up call center jobs. The article also said that content moderators’ pay in Africa was the lowest across the globe. Sama increased employee pay after the exposé.
“Content moderators struggle every day to make Facebook safer for billions of people, in dangerous conditions,” said Mercy Mutemi of Nzuli and Nsumbi, also the lead counsel in the legal action.
“With the August elections now so close, there has never been a more important time to force Mark Zuckerberg to take responsibility for the people on the frontline of the information battle during the contest,” said Mutemi.
In our previous coverage on this issue, Meta distanced itself, saying that Motaung was not its employee, while Sama denied the claims.