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Meta Lurches Toward Another Moderation Crisis

Meta has cut ties with a subcontractor that provided moderators for its African markets, just weeks before the tech giant is due to appear in a Kenyan court to face allegations of human trafficking and union busting.

The company has ended a contract with outsourcing company Sama, which former employee Daniel Motaung accused last year of imposing “unreasonable working conditions,” including irregular pay, inadequate mental health support, and violations of workers’ privacy. 

But conditions at the company that is poised to take on the Meta contract appear to be equally bad, if not worse. Meta has not confirmed which company will take up the new contract, but the Financial Times reported on January 10 that it would likely be Majorel, a Luxembourg-based outsourcing company that already has content moderation contracts with Meta in Morocco, and offices across the world. 

“The job is traumatizing, and we are being given peanuts,” one Majorel employee in Nairobi, who works as a content moderator for TikTok, told WIRED. They described long hours watching graphic content of beheadings, mutilations, and suicides for a monthly salary of less than 35,000 Kenya shillings, or around $281. “We cannot even sustain our normal lives.” 

The employee’s description of conditions at Majorel was confirmed by other moderators working at the company and by messages in private social media groups, seen by WIRED.

Both TikTok and Meta moderators that worked with Majorel described viewing hundreds of potentially traumatic images a day, with little support from counsellors. TikTok moderators in Nairobi say that while performance-based bonuses are possible, they are difficult to get and those who complained about working conditions felt they were denied promotions and received poor reviews. Moderators in the Nairobi offices also complained of not getting monthly payslips to confirm their pay, instead being routed to an online portal that was last updated in October.

Neither Meta nor Majorel responded to requests for comment.

Majorel employees, who spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid retaliation, told WIRED that Meta executives visited the Majorel office in Nairobi in mid-January and said staff were told that the company would be taking on a Meta contract. 

Job advertisements on Fuzu.com, a platform for job postings in Africa, show that Majorel is currently hiring content moderators who speak Kirundi, Tigrinya, Oromo, Luganda, Kinyarwanda, Tswana, Afrikaans, Zulu, Amharic, and Somali. Sama provided Meta’s moderation in most of these languages. 

While working conditions at Sama, which is certified as a social enterprise, have been heavily criticized, the company paid moderators more than Majorel is offering new employees, according to an individual who worked on a Meta contract and spoke to WIRED on condition of anonymity. Sama moderators were paid around 60,000 Kenyan shillings ($483) a month, which still made them among the poorest-compensated workers in Meta’s moderation networks. 

A 2019 report from the Verge found that content moderators in the US made $15 per hour. By contrast, Sama employees were paid between $1.46 and $2.20 per hour. Previous reporting found that moderators in India made close to $2 per hour.

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“Sama is [one of] the lowest-paid of all the Meta moderators now,” the Sama employee says. “But I think when it changes, then it will be Majorel that is the lowest-paid.”

However, Sama did take some steps to protect its workers during the Covid-19 pandemic, booking hotel rooms for employees so that they could complete their work in isolation, according to the employee.  

Some workers at Majorel’s African office in Morocco, meanwhile, were mandated to report to the office to work as early as March of 2020, well before vaccines were available, according to a moderator who worked for the company at the time. “We were in the office from day one,” they said. In India, Meta’s outsourcing partner Genpact also called its moderators back to the office in 2020.  

The Sama moderator told WIRED that they, and other moderators working on Meta contracts, were due to be laid off at the end of March. However, despite the lower salaries and worse conditions at other companies, they said that they would likely look for another job in the industry in Kenya. 

Like many others, they moved to Kenya to work for the outsourcing company, bringing specialized language skills. 

“Kenyan immigration does not allow an individual to work in Kenya if the skill can be obtained within Kenya. So the reason we are there is because of our language skills,” said one Sama moderator from outside the country who asked to remain anonymous, as they are not authorized to speak to the media. “I definitely believe people will have to leave [the country]. I’m still trying to process it.”

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