Suit claims Facebook should be protecting its content screeners, attorney says

By Elizabeth Alt | Oct 9, 2018

A lawsuit filed Sept. 21 in San Mateo County Superior Court alleges former “content moderators” for Facebook viewed thousands of graphic images and videos of child sexual abuse, rape and murder, and nothing was done to protect the employees from psychological trauma.

The class-action suit filed by Selena Scola said she was hired by Pro Unlimited as an independent contractor and worked from June 2017 to March 2018 as a content moderator for Facebook. Scola filed the complaint on behalf of herself and other similarly situated individuals to protect them from “Facebook’s failure to provide a safe workplace for the thousands of contractors who are entrusted to provide the safest environment possible for Facebook users.”

“Ms. Scola is asking that Facebook implement policies, resources, and tools that will minimize the harm that content moderators experience. She is also asking for a medical monitoring fund, which would be used to identify moderators who are suffering from PTSD and get them the help they need,” civil rights attorney William Most told the Northern California Record. Most declined to comment on whether any other content moderators have joined the class.

The suit alleges violations of the California Unfair Competition Law against Pro Unlimited and Facebook and negligence against Facebook and is requesting certification for a class and declaratory and injunctive relief.

New Orleans Civil Rights Attorney WIlliam Most

Facebook currently employs 7,500 content moderators, as full-time employees or independent contractors, to remove online material that violates Facebook’s rules. The suit claims content moderators view “millions of videos, images, and livestreamed broadcasts of child sexual abuse, rape, torture, bestiality, beheadings, suicide, and murder” and “scour the most depraved images on the internet to protect Facebook users from trauma-inducing content.” 

Due to the graphic content she was required to view daily, Scola alleges that she suffers from post-traumatic stress symptoms including “fatigue, insomnia, and social anxiety.” Scola’s PTSD symptoms can be triggered “when she touches a computer mouse, enters a cold building, watches violence on television, hears loud noises, or is startled,” as well as when she remembers an image she saw during her employment. “Facebook was also aware of the psychological trauma that could be caused by viewing video, images, and/or livestreamed broadcasts of child abuse, rape, torture, bestiality, beheadings, suicide, murder, and other forms of extreme violence.”

The complaint states that Facebook helped create the Technology Coalition in 2006 which publishes a guidebook to help the technology industry assist employees who are faced with graphic images. The guidebook recommends that all internet service providers implement a program to support their content moderators and “mitigate the effects of exposure to trauma-inducing imagery,” such as limiting the content moderators’ viewing disturbing media to four hours, blurring images, and providing mandatory counseling.

According to the complaint, Facebook is ignoring the standards they created. “Instead, the multibillion-dollar corporation affirmatively requires its content moderators to work under conditions known to cause and exacerbate psychological trauma.” 

In a press release, attorney Most stated that Facebook needs to be held to the same standard of other technological companies. “Facebook has an obligation to provide its content moderators with a safe workplace.”

The complaint seeks to stop the unlawful practices and ensure Facebook provides their content moderators with “proper mandatory onsite and ongoing mental health treatment and support, and to establish a medical monitoring fund for testing and providing mental health treatment to the thousands of former and current content moderators affected by Defendants’ unlawful practices.”

As of the date of this publication, Facebook has not responded to the suit.

The plaintiff is represented by Joseph Saveri Law Firm Inc. in San Francisco, Burns Charest LLP in New Orleans and the Law Office of William Most in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Superior Court for the State of California, County of San Mateo, Case Number 18CIV05135

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Burns Charest LLP Law Office of William Most Superior Court of California County of San Mateo

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