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Facebook moderators blast Zuckerberg, claim he’s risking their lives for profits

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Mark Zuckerberg’s drive for profits might end with their deaths. 

So argue the more than 200 content moderators who published an open letter Wednesday accusing the Facebook CEO of hypocrisy and a wanton disregard for their health during a raging pandemic. In demanding many return to the office, the moderators insist, both Zuckerberg and the CEOs of content moderation companies CPL and Accenture have taken the psychologically taxing job of content moderation and added the deadly element of coronavirus exposure. 

The letter, which was also posted to Facebook’s Workplace channels, lays out both a list of grievances and demands. It also highlights Zuckerberg’s wealth gains — he has almost doubled his during the pandemic — while noting that content moderators aren’t even getting hazard pay. 

The heart of the matter, according to the content moderators employed by third-party companies such as Accenture, is that many are now required to work from the office with few exceptions. This, despite confirmed coronavirus cases in moderator buildings. 

“We, the undersigned Facebook content moderators and Facebook employees, write 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,” opens the letter. 

The letter, addressed to Zuckerberg, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, (third-party moderation company) CPL CEO Anne Heraty, and Accenture CEO Julie Sweet, says that Facebook’s artificial intelligence is not up to the task. As such, the letter insists, Facebook is increasingly dependent on the moderators it now puts in harm’s way. 

“To cover the pressing need to moderate the masses of violence, hate, terrorism, child abuse, and other horrors that we fight for you every day, you sought to substitute our work with the work of a machine,” reads the letter. “The AI wasn’t up to the job. Important speech got swept into the maw of the Facebook filter — and risky content, like self-harm, stayed up.”

We reached out to Facebook for a response to the claims, as well as to the letter writers’ demands. Unfortunately, the company’s on-the-record response boiled down to accusing the moderators of dishonesty. 

“While we believe in having an open internal dialogue, these discussions need to be honest,” wrote the spokesperson. “The majority of these 15,000 global content reviewers have been working from home and will continue to do so for the duration of the pandemic.”

Notably, Facebook has a long history of bending — or full on misrepresenting — the truth to suit its needs. As The Verge reported in October, Facebook content moderators are being “forced” back to the office in Dublin, Ireland. The Verge reported, also in October, that Austin-based moderators employed by Accenture were told to report to the office last month.

In contrast, Facebook told its employees — think software engineers, public relations teams, and project managers — that they could work from home until at least July of 2021

The signatories of Wednesday’s letter — a significant portion of which remained anonymous, according to the New York Times, for fear of reprisal — want the ability to work from home. They also want to be made employees at Facebook, arguing cogently that they are fundamental to the social media platform’s existence. 

“By outsourcing our jobs, Facebook implies that the 35,000 of us who work in moderation are somehow peripheral to social media,” notes the letter. “Yet we are so integral to Facebook’s viability that we must risk our lives to come into work.”  

Facebook’s casually dismissive response makes clear that the company doesn’t take the letter signers’ concerns seriously. Facebook users must ask themselves if they believe the moderators — and if so, are they willing to keep using a platform that endangers workers around the globe for the sake of sharing photos and .

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