Irish Facebook workers seek greater Covid-19 protections

More than 100 Facebook workers in Dublin who monitor the social network for inappropriate content are among the signatories to a public letter seeking better work protection during the coronavirus pandemic.

The content moderators have written to Facebook executives Mark Zuckerburg and Sheryl Sandberg raising concerns about being asked to work from offices during the public health crisis.

They want the company to maximise at-home work to keep them and their families safe from infection and hazard pay for those who have to work in offices as part of the monitoring of content posted online to detect high-risk material such as images of child abuse.

The letter, released by Foxglove, a UK-based non-profit group that has been advocating for improving conditions for Facebook moderators, is copied to Anne Heraty, the Irish chief executive of recruitment group CPL that contracts the moderators through a subsidiary called Covalen.

Foxglove said that 114 Dublin-based moderators have signed up to the letter, just over 40 per cent of the signatories, and that it includes five who are full-time employees of Facebook.

The remainder are content moderators working through contractors CPL or Accenture.

Content moderators have long been pushing for psychological supports and better working conditions because of the graphic nature of their work given that they have to screen the social network for material such as violence, hate speech and animal cruelty and remove it.

The California-based internet giant settled a €48 million lawsuit with US content moderators and about 30 more are planning legal actions in the Irish courts over the nature of their work.

Moderators complain in their public letter to company bosses about being “forced” to return to offices and “to express our dismay at your decision to risk our lives – and the lives of our colleagues and loved ones – to maintain Facebook’s profits during the pandemic.”

The moderators say that workers who secure a doctor’s note about being at personal risk to Covid-19 have been excused from attending in person at work but moderators with vulnerable relatives, who are at greater risk from Covid-19 infection, have not.

They claim that on top of work that is “psychologically toxic, holding onto the job means walking in a hot zone” with multiple Covid-19 cases being reported in workspaces.

Covid cases

A small number of confirmed Covid-19 cases have been reported at offices in Sandyford, south Co Dublin where some Facebook content moderators are based.

“Workers have asked Facebook leadership and the leadership of your outsourcing firms like Accenture and CPL to take urgent steps to protect us and value our work. You refused. We are publishing this letter because we are left with no choice,” they say.

The letter points to the money made by Facebook during the pandemic and refers to the fact that CPL, one of Facebook’s main European contractors, is to be sold for €318 million.

In response, a spokeswoman for Facebook in Dublin said that the company appreciated the valuable work content reviewers carry out and that it prioritises health and safety.

“Many of these 15,000 global content reviews have been working from home and will continue to do so for the duration of the pandemic,” she said.

“All of them have access to healthcare and confidential wellbeing resources from their first day of employment and Facebook has exceeded health guidance on keeping facilities safe for any in-office work.”

Facebook workers, typically carried out by contractors working for outside companies such as CPL/Covalen, must carry out critical content moderation work on site and in offices.

The company has introduced health and safety precautions such as reduced capacity and room occupancy limits to allow for physical distancing, mandatory wearing of face masks and daily cleaning of offices and desks to protect against Covid-19.