Despite COVID-19 risks, Facebook wants moderators back in the office

Facebook content moderators have repeatedly described their workplace as a dark, hellish landscape. And the company continues to fail them.

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The COVID-19 pandemic has been revelatory. Not only has the deadly virus exposed how paltry public health infrastructure is, especially in the United States, it has also laid bare how little certain tech companies care about their workforces.

Some of the most recurring examples come from Facebook, the company that insists on telling everyone how much it cares about the world while its track record says otherwise. According to CNBC, Mark Zuckerberg and his executive colleagues are defending the company's decision to bring some of its content moderation team back into the Facebook office space. The company's vice president of integrity, Guy Rosen, explained that Facebook requires some of its workforce to be on-site in order to continue moderating the oft-hellish terrain of Facebook content.

Rosen has insisted that the conditions for these workers will be safe and hygienic, but so have the likes of Amazon which is currently under fire for reports of at least 19,000 workers contracting COVID-19.

What Facebook says — In a press call, per CNBC, Rosen stated, "We're not able to route some of the most sensitive and graphic content to outsourced reviewers at home. This is really sensitive content. This is not something you want people reviewing from home with their family around."

This point from Rosen is understandable, even commendable that the company wants to shield the loved ones of these workers from this disturbing content. As Input has previously reported, Facebook content moderators have the psychologically brutal task of reviewing content that frequently falls in the categories of child sexual abuse, bestiality, homicides, suicides, and other equally upsetting photos and videos.

Yet despite the concern Rosen shows in this press call, the company has recently banned ads from a law firm seeking to represent these distressed workers. On top of that, Rosen's firm has been notoriously late to recognize the extreme emotional toll of working as underpaid content moderators. It was only recently that the company had to pay a $52 million settlement to workers who are currently with the company as well as those who previously worked as moderators for Zuckerberg.

Rosen's announcement comes right after Facebook content moderators wrote an open letter to their employer, urging them to reconsider their pandemic-specific approach. "Despite vast sums flowing to each of you as corporate executives," the moderators collectively state, "you have refused moderators hazard pay. A content moderator at Accenture’s office in Austin, Texas generally earns $18 per hour." The workers' demands are fundamentally sound and understandable given circumstances: maximize at-home work for these moderators, provide hazard pay, nix outsourcing, equalize the rights between all staff members, and recognize the need for health care options.

But if we know anything about Facebook, company profit has almost always trumped human safety.