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Facebook Accused of Grilling Trauma Counselors for Staff Information

August 19, 2019

7:03 pm

Facebook has a moderator problem. Despite the tech industry's love of big data-powered AI, the best editorial and moderating tasks are still accomplished by normal humans, and, at least at Facebook, poorly compensated ones.

Now, an internal letter has accused Facebook of pressuring its moderators' onsite trauma counselors to divulge confidential information.

Facebook has responded to the accusations, as well as the outsourcing company at the centre of the allegations, although their comments have done little to appease those affected.

Confidentiality Breached

Content moderation for Facebook is a grim job for low pay, sifting through violent, offensive and pornographic material, but contractors do have access to on-site counseling from, as they're internally known, “wellness coaches.”

The open letter accuses a manager from Accenture, the outsourcing company that officially employs the contractors, of pressuring “a WeCare licensed counselor to divulge the contents of their session with an Accenture employee.” When the counselor cited confidentiality, the letter says, the manager argued that confidentiality didn't exist since it was not a clinical setting. However, confidentiality does apply: The letter notes that every patient needs to sign a confidentiality and HIPAA waiver before their sessions begin.

In addition, the manger's superior to was also found to be pressuring counselors for additional confidential medical information, indicating a systemic issue rather than an isolated one.

The Intercept added a lawyer's opinion that the described incident likely didn’t constitute a HIPAA violation. However, it's tough to argue with the letter's point that this is “at best a careless breach of trust into the Wellness program.”

The Life of a Facebook Moderator

The news comes from Facebook Austin, one of many locations where outsourced workers comb through as many as 800 pieces of upsetting and disturbing content each shift in an effort to keep Facebook and Instagram content up to code.

These types of individual contractors can annually earn as little as $28,800, The Verge has previously reported.

Conditions at the various outsourcing locations are a far cry from the perks of life as a Facebook employee, according to the Verge report, which mentions feces-smeared bathrooms and pubic hairs on desks at a Tampa location, a multi-month bedbug infestation at the Phoenix location, and one Tampa content moderator's terminal heart attack, which senior management “initially discouraged” workers from discussing due to fears of lowered productivity.

If I was working there, in other words, I'd definitely have a lot to talk over with my wellness coach.

Facebook Responds

Facebook and Accenture have both responded.

Facebook's statement to The Intercept:

“All of our partners must provide a resiliency plan that is reviewed and approved by Facebook. This includes a holistic approach to wellbeing and resiliency that puts the needs of their employees first. All leaders and wellness coaches receive training on this employee resource and while we do not believe that there was a breach of privacy in this case, we have used this as an opportunity to reemphasize that training across the organization.”

Accenture took a stronger stance, claiming the letter was wrong:

“These allegations are inaccurate. Our people’s wellbeing is our top priority and our trust-and-safety teams in Austin have unrestricted access to wellness support. Additionally, our wellness program offers proactive and on-demand counseling and is backed by a strong employee assistance program. Our people are actively encouraged to raise wellness concerns through these programs. We also review, benchmark and invest in our wellness programs on an ongoing basis to create the most supportive workplace environment – regularly seeking input from industry experts, medical professionals and our people.”

There you have it, folks. Both Facebook and Accenture have stated their intent to put their employees' needs above all else. We'll keep you posted if these intentions result in further action.

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Adam is a writer at Tech.co and has worked as a tech writer, blogger and copy editor for the last decade. He's also a Forbes Contributor on the publishing industry (and Digital Book World 2018 award finalist) and has appeared in publications including Popular Mechanics and IDG Connect. When not glued to TechMeme, he loves obsessing over 1970s sci-fi art.