Facebook content moderators using drugs and sex at work to cope with PTSD symptoms

Facebook content moderations disclosed the extreme consequences that come with the stress of constantly reviewing graphic and offensive material, according to a new report from the Verge.

Facebook’s content moderators are based in a facility in Arizona, operated by contract vendor Cognizant, where employees told the tech website that they cope with using drugs and having sex while on the job.

The content moderators, most of whom are paid $15 an hour, are hired to look through a constant stream of content that includes offensive jokes, possible threats, and videos of beheadings and murders.

The moderators are allotted two 15-minute breaks, one 30-minute lunch break, and nine minutes of “wellness time” during one work day. However, a lot of the time spent on these breaks are for waiting in long bathroom lines where reportedly three bathroom stalls are used for hundreds of workers.

Sometimes these stalls are used as a venue for people to have sex to cope with the high stress that comes with watching graphic and offensive content for their job. Some workers also use the facility’s nursing rooms to have sex, which became such an issue last year that the company removed locks from the rooms’ doors.

The Verge also reported that employees confessed to using drugs and alcohol to numb the pain and psychological stress. Some regularly smoke marijuana while working and others have often joked with each other about “drinking to forget.”

A former content moderator said he even starting bringing his gun to the Cognizant facility to protect himself from former employees. He said she was worried about violent threats made by terminated employees at the time. Although he has left the company, he said that he still sleeps with a gun at night.

The former worker said viewing all those content led him to believe some of the conspiracy theories he was exposed to at work, including some claiming that the September 11 was not a terrorist attack or that the Las Vegas massacre had multiple gunmen involved.

He told the Verge that he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and generalised anxiety.

A counsellor at Cognizant denied any risk of its contract content moderators developing PTSD, the Verge reported. The counsellor also argued that some of them could experience "post-traumatic growth," where they can become emotionally and mentally stronger.

A Facebook spokesperson released a statement in response to the report, citing the company has certain standards around “well-being and support.”

"We value the hard work of content reviewers and have certain standards around their well-being and support,” the statement read. “We work with only highly reputable global partners that have standards for their workforce, and we jointly enforce these standards with regular touch points to ensure the work environment is safe and supportive, and that the most appropriate resources are in place."

In another statement by Facebook, a spokesperson for Cognizant said the contract vendor investigated the issues mentioned in The Verge report and has taken appropriate action.

Cognizant has "previously taken action where necessary and have steps in place to continue to address these concerns and any others raised by our employees,” the statement read. “In addition to offering a comprehensive wellness program at Cognizant, including a safe and supportive work culture, 24x7 phone support and onsite counsellor support to employees, Cognizant has partnered with leading HR and Wellness consultants to develop the next generation of wellness practices."