Facebook Settles PTSD Content Moderator Claims For $52 Million

NPR reported in May 2020 that social media giant Facebook agreed to settle thousands of contract worker claims brought against the company. The contract workers had filed claims that they suffered post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of viewing and removing disturbing and graphic posts – for a living. The settlement agreement was agreed to between Facebook and lawyers for the contractors. The amount of the settlement was $52 million.

The deal provides that these “content moderators” (more than 10,000 in number) will be eligible for $1,000 in cash. Additionally, contractors who were “diagnosed with psychological conditions related to their work as Facebook moderators” will have their medical bills for treatments and therapies covered – and may be awarded additional damages up to $50,000 for each person. The claims were made by contract workers from four US states. The four states are Arizona, California, Florida, and Texas. The settlement applies to contractors from these four states who worked for Facebook between 2015 and the date of the settlement.

A lawyer for the contractors said that, “the harm that can be suffered from this work is real and severe.” Facebook did not admit any liability as part of the settlement. The tech company also agreed that it would provide mental health counseling to its current content moderators throughout the course of their employment.

A representative for Facebook told NPR (through email) that the company is grateful to their content moderators. The spokesperson said the work is important because it makes the social media company a safe environment for those people who use Facebook.

How did the claims against Facebook start?

The settlement was based on a class-action lawsuit that was filed in September 2018. The lawsuit detailed how traumatic the work for Facebook was. NPR profiled the lead plaintiff, Selena Scola, who worked as a public content contractor – at the company’s offices located in Mountain View and Menlo Park, California. She was employed by Pro Unlimited Inc. a contractor based in Florida.

As part of Selena’s work, she had to work through an onslaught of posts published by people who post to Facebook. Facebook has billions of users. The class-action lawsuit claimed that the content included “broadcasts of child sexual abuse, rape, torture, bestiality, beheadings, suicide, and murder.” Workers like Selena were contracted to report objectionable content to Facebook. Due to the barrage of content, Facebook relies on thousands of contract workers to examine this horrific content – to determine if it violates the terms of use of Facebook policies. Facebook relies on these workers to remove objectionable to keep a favorable public image – and to make huge profits.

The plaintiff’s lawyers asserted that Selena, and others like here, had to look at “thousands of graphically violent images and videos, and now her ‘PTSD symptoms may be triggered when she touches a computer mouse,’ enters a cold building or hears loud noises.”

According to The Verge, a technology website, some content moderators earn $28,000 a year. 

The settlement also has another provision. Facebook managers of content moderators will now review a contractor’s “emotional resiliency” before hiring an applicant for the job. Facebook will also have guidelines for “how a moderator can stop seeing a specific kind of content, if requested.”

The lawsuit may pave the way for similar lawsuits on behalf of moderators in other states and for other online sites – where violent material can easily spread. The lawsuit is just an example of how workers in technology are being affected. New litigation for various technology workplace settings and harms may begin to be filed.

What is PTSD?

According to the Mayo Clinic, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health discord that is usually triggered by a frightening event – either by experiencing it or seeing it. Many people who experience terrifying events do recover with time. Some, however, have symptoms that may last for months or years. Treatment normally involves psychological and other forms of mental health counseling.

Some people develop symptoms shortly after the event. Other people may not develop symptoms until months or years later. PTSD can affect a person’s work life, social life, relationships, and the ability to perform daily tasks. Generally, PTSD symptoms include:

  • Intrusive memories. Examples include:
    • “Recurrent, unwanted distressing memories of the traumatic event
    • Reliving the traumatic event as if it were happening again (flashbacks)
    • Upsetting dreams or nightmares about the traumatic event
    • Severe emotional distress or physical reactions to something that reminds you of the traumatic event.”
  • Avoidance. Examples include:
    • Avoiding thinking or speaking about the event(s)
    • Avoiding certain places that trigger memories of the event(s).
  • Negative mood and thought changes. This include:
    • Negative thoughts about yourself and other
    • Feelings of hopelessness
    • Inability to keep close relationships
    • Memory difficulties
    • Feelings of detachment
    • A lack of interest in things you once liked to do
  • Changes in emotional and physical reactions. Examples include:
    • Always being alert for any dangers
    • Being scared or startled easily
    • Drinking, driving fast, or other reckless behavior
    • Difficulty sleeping
    • An inability to concentrate
    • Anger and aggressive behavior
    • Feelings of guilt or shame

The Mayo Clinic recommends that people see a doctor if these symptoms last for more than a month or if you feel you just can’t control your life. Patients don’t need to wait a month though before seeking help since early intervention is generally better.

If you or someone you know has suicidal thoughts, it’s important to get professional medical help right away. 

PTSD may increase the risk of other health problems such as:

  • “Depression and anxiety
  • Issues with drugs or alcohol use
  • Eating disorders
  • Suicidal thoughts and actions”

At the California Law Offices of Stephen A. Danz and Associates, we’ve been fighting for employee rights for nearly 40 years. We represent individual employees and groups of employees with common interests such as the employees in this PTSD case against Facebook. To discuss any employee rights claim such as adverse working conditions or employee discrimination, call us at 877-789-9707 or use our online contact form to make an appointment. Se habla espanol.