From Accenture to Teleperformance: who are the whizzs of content moderation?
In light of Elon Musk's recent statement about implementing a lighter moderation on Twitter, it is the right moment to focus on a very secret industry, where practices, fees and the management of the psychological toll implied by the job still remain a mystery.
En-Contact magazine will dedicate a special issue to this new BPO industry, which includes many companies operating contact centers (Majorel, Teleperformance, Netino by Webhelp, Telus International) but also outsourcing giants such as Accenture.
In Colombia, Teleperformance operates for TikTok among others. Is the trade dangerous for employees? The unions, which are not very active besides, seem to think so. Daniel Julien, founder of Teleperformance, begs to differ and says that the working conditions are adapted to "this difficult and necessary job, similar to police or hospital work." An article of the Time from last year mention several problems on that front - the psychological well-being of content moderators - yet to be solved.
When your job is to watch 900 videos a day, dedicate about 15 seconds to each one, with the likelihood of reading and scrutinizing humanity's worst proclivities (see below) for the biggest companies (Meta, Discord, YouTube), who is to be held accountable, the service providers only, the tech giants that employ them or... human nature? What is the worth of labels proficiently used by some (Great Place To Work, CSR, ethical investment funds) when the pressing matter is for such a profession to be better known, understood, and recognized as just as necessary as jobs in slaughterhouses or in funeral homes?
The special edition of En-Contact will be released in April 2023. On-site investigations and reports started in October 2022: the team will go from Barcelona to Colombia, via Africa, with a detour by Accenture's offices.
We will see how homeworkers sometimes partake to these activities, and how technology and companies such as Alcmeon, Callity, Jigsay, Tay can alleviate the most difficult aspects of the job. Can the analysis be automatized so that a human being is spared many traumatic a sight?
In the meantime, they saw the very worst and they would like to be better paid, cared of.
They are suing Youtube and Facebook or ask their employers, such as Accenture, Majorel, Sama, to pay them better or to adress effectively their mental health issues. Daniel Motaung, Chris Gray, Jane Doe, Thierry Breton, here are some of the people, famous or not, whose legal actions, statements or recent decisions will favour or compromise the development of companies specialized in content moderation: Accenture, Atchik, Collabera, Majorel, Outsourcia (via its subsidiary Scemi), Sama, Teleperformance, Webhelp etc. Many call centres and community management experts have created specialized divisions. This is necessary because a skillful combination of tools, processes and moderator protection measures is required to tackle this fast-growing and complex activity.
A quick reminder of what happened in 2021 and 2022-11-02
Daniel Motaung, former moderator at Sama (formerly Samasource) a Kenyan BPO specialist that collaborates with Meta, has sued his employer and its sponsor for slavery and human trafficking. Sama, which describes itself as an "ethical AI company," fired Daniel in 2019 after he tried to form an union to obtain better wages and working conditions. The former moderator is being defended by Foxglove, a London-based law firm. In one of the most significant accusations, Daniel states that Sama and Meta place misleading job ads on social networks where the real nature of the job and the name of the employer are not mentioned and described. Meta has done everything to try to have its name removed from the complaint filed in court. Sama, which is based in San Francisco, is hiring and appears to be looking, according to its website, for a Wellbeing Coach, in Nairobi, Kenya. The company bills itself as an AI Platform, working with 25% of the Fortune 50.
Julie Sweet, CEO of Accenture, was challenged by employee moderators also located in Africa. In a letter posted on social networks, the signatories said: "talk is cheap, action matters. Unfair pay is a problem you can fix today (..) Let there be change is the slogan and the base-line used by the company. Engage the change » write these content moderators paid less than 2 dollars a day.
Majorel, which recently gave up to merge with Sitel, and collaborates with TikTok, has been also recently described in the Anglo-Saxon press as an employer with little regard for the working conditions offered to its moderators. 1000 videos often gory and violent to be viewed per day, with the possibility of being badly rated, planning conditions (shifts) that prioritize the imperatives imposed by the customers rather than personal life, a daily salary of 7 dollars are some of the grievances exposed by ex-moderators, located in Barcelona or in Morocco. They all mention the culture of secrecy imposed by Majorel.
The moderators often complain that they do not benefit from the same working conditions as those offered to the employees of Meta. BPO providers, on the other hand, claim that AI would allow them to automatically sort and moderate a large amount of information. Webhelp described in a recent article the vision of what technology will allow in the near future or right now as they move to Brasil.
A quick reminder of the context and highlights of 2020
Ex-employees of Facebook, Youtube or service-provider collaborators filed a suit against their employers or their sponsors for the psychic disorders or damages caused by their jobs. Chris Gray, from Ireland, sued Facebook, while Jane Doe did the same Youtube.inc, in September 2020, in an American court. Under the guise of a pseudonym, the former employee of Collabera (Youtube’s provider) in Texas talks about the numerous PTSD that her job as a web cleaner has caused.
More recently, the European Commissioner for the Internal Market, Thierry Breton, mentioned Europe's desire, thanks to the DSA and DMA (two new regulations on digital markets), to regulate the GAFAs and to impose serious obligations on them in terms of content moderation.
From Toulouse to the Philippines, via Madagascar or Eastern Europe, small highly specialized companies as well as large global outsourcing specialists got on that train. No platform whatsoever can let its users running their mouth freely.