Man who monitors child abuse videos on Facebook dies of stress during work

Man who monitors child abuse videos on Facebook dies of stress during work

Posted on June 20, 2019

A Facebook moderator had a heart attack at his desk and died after watching hours footage of child abuse, murder, hate speech and suicide. Keith Utley, 42, was one of 800 workers under an immense amount pressure at the content moderation site. His mental health took a nosedive due to the gruesome content he watched all day long. He keeled over at his desk during a night shift in March last year and started turning blue before he was rushed hospital and pronounced dead. Some members of staff allegedly carried on looking at their screens and working while the crisis unfolded,

One of Keith’s managers said: The stress they put on him — it’s unworldly. ‘I did a lot of coaching. I spent some time talking with him about things he was having issues seeing. And he was always worried about getting fired.’ Workers at the site run by professional services firm Cognizant failed to meet Facebook’s 98 per cent ‘accuracy target’ hovering at around 92 per cent instead.

Employees say they are at breaking point from the pressure from managers to improve with word that Cognizant’s contract with Facebook might not be renewed. Management reportedly told employees not to talk about Keith’s death fearing it would dent productivity. According to insiders at the facility in Tampa, Florida, people working the day shift after Keith’s death were told there had been an ‘incident’. One workmate said: ‘They wanted to play it down. I think they were worried about people quitting with the emotional impact it would have.’

Staff at the site run by professional services firm Cognizant have been diagnosed with PTSD and depression due to the barrage of distressing videos they sat through. Now Facebook moderators are breaking the nondisclosure agreements they signed to speak up about working conditions at the facility. A culture of bullying, harassment and in some cases violence has gripped the office with verbal and physical fights erupting on a monthly basis, according to employees. The Verge learnt two women at the site have filed sexual harassment cases against co-workers since April.

Following criticism over explicit and dangerous content on its platform in 2016, Facebook boosted its worldwide safety and security workforce to 30,000. Individual contractors in North America are said to make as little as $28,800 (£22,000) a year for the job. In contrast, the average full-time employee of Facebook earns around $240,000 (£188,900) a year including salary, bonuses and stock options. Moderators are entitled to two 15 minute breaks and a 30 minute lunch break every day as well as nine minutes of ‘wellness’ time for when they feel emotionally overwhelmed. Facebook says it will carry out a audit on the well-being of its contractors and partners and is looking at providing counselling for moderators who are leaving the job.

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