- A Facebook content moderator died last year after suffering a heart attack while on the job, according to a new report from The Verge.
- The report details the harsh working conditions at a Facebook contractor facility operated by Cognizant in Tampa Florida, in which employee breaks are closely monitored and the office is poorly kept.
- It’s the latest of several investigations into the mental trauma and demanding work environment that Facebook’s content moderators are subjected to.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
A man who worked as a Facebook content moderator died last year after suffering a heart attack while on the job, according to a blistering new report by The Verge on Wednesday which details the working conditions at the social media giant’s Tampa, Florida, moderation site.
The man, a former Coast Guard lieutenant commander named Keith Utley, worked the overnight shift at the facility, which is operated by contractor Cognizant. On March 9, 2018, co-workers noticed something was wrong when Utley began to slide out of his chair and they began performing CPR on him, according to the report.
A defibrillator was not available at the office, and Utley was pronounced dead shortly after paramedics rushed him to a hospital. He had suffered a heart attack and was 42 years old, leaving behind a wife and two daughters, the report says. While the report says that Utley was under a lot of stress at work, it does not link the heart attack to his working conditions.
According to the American Heart Association, an American will have a heart attack roughly every 40 seconds. And The Verge was not able to obtain additional information about Utley’s health leading up to the heart attack or the specific circumstances surrounding his death.
Like many of the contractors tasked with moderating Facebook content, Utley was often exposed to graphic content depicting violent and hateful acts, as the report details. Utley was also under tremendous stress since the Tampa office is Facebook’s worst-performing moderation site in North America, according to The Verge.
“Cognizant strives to create a safe and empowering workplace for its more than 40,000 employees in the US and their colleagues around the world,” Cognizant said in a comment to Business Insider. “Like any large employer, Cognizant routinely and professionally responds to and addresses general workplace and personnel issues in its facilities. Our Tampa facility is no different. Cognizant works hard to ensure a safe, clean, and supportive work environment for all of our associates.”
Those overseeing the facility did not tell employees about Utley’s death at first and also told managers not to discuss it with their workers, The Verge reports citing conversations with current and former employees.
Low pay and limited bathroom breaks
The piece underscores the troublesome working conditions that those who purge Facebook of violent and toxic content are exposed to, building on a previous report from The Verge published in February that focused on the mental trauma Facebook’s contracted content moderators experience.
“We work with our content review partners to provide a level of support and compensation that leads the industry,” a Facebook spokesperson said in a comment to Business Insider. “There will inevitably be employee challenges or dissatisfaction that call our commitment to this work and our partners’ employees into question. When the circumstances warrant action on the part of management, we make sure it happens.”
“Our thoughts go out to Keith Utley’s family, friends and everyone who worked with him. We go to great lengths to support the people that do this important work, and take any reports that we might not be doing enough incredibly seriously,” Facebook said.
Beyond the potential mental trauma Facebook’s content moderators risk enduring on the job, employees at the Tampa facility have described a harsh work environment in which break times are closely monitored and the building’s facilities are poorly kept.
The Verge’s report says employees are paid as little as $28,800 a year and are allotted two 15-minute breaks, a 30-minute lunch break, and nine minutes for “wellness” time each day. Cognizant workers are also required to use personal time when they feel ill and must log their bathroom breaks, which has resulted in at least one worker vomiting at her desk in a trash can, according to The Verge. The company recently announced it would raise its base wage for contractors to more accurately reflect the local costs of living.
Business Insider’s Rob Price reported similar treatment at a Facebook contractor facility managed by Accenture in Austin, Texas, which enforces rules that prevent employees from being able to freely use their phones and impose restrictions on when they can take breaks. The Guardian also reported in December that Facebook subcontractors seeking better working conditions were given an ultimatum to accept the company’s counter offer or leave their jobs.
Facebook’s Arun Chandra spoke to The Verge about how the social networking giant plans to improve such conditions for its content moderation contractors. The firm held a summit attended by 200 leaders from contractor facilities around the world and plans to launch a new audit program later this year. Chris Harrison from Facebook’s global resiliency team also told the publication that he wants the company to take “psychological fitness” into account when hiring in the future.
Facebook also offers support to all content reviewers, including the opportunity to talk to trained practitioners, and is looking into building new technical tools to limit exposure to graphic material. This could include, for example, filters that blur out some content.