FACEBOOK’S SILENT HARM

NAIROBI. – A firm which was contracted to moderate Facebook posts in East Africa has said with hindsight it should not have taken on the job.

Former Kenya-based employees of Sama – an outsourcing company – have said they were traumatised by exposure to graphic posts.

Some are now taking legal cases against the firm through the Kenyan courts.

Chief executive Wendy Gonzalez said Sama would no longer take work involving moderating harmful content.

Some former employees have described being traumatised after viewing videos of beheadings, suicide and other graphic material at the moderation hub, which the firm ran from 2019.

Former moderator Daniel Motaung previously told the BBC the first graphic video he saw was “a live video of someone being beheaded”.

Mr Motaung is suing Sama and Facebook’s owner Meta.

Meta says it requires all companies it works with to provide round-the-clock support. Sama says certified wellness counsellors were always on hand.

Ms Gonzalez told the BBC that the work – which never represented more than 4 percent of the firm’s business – was a contract she would not take again. Sama announced it would end it in January.

“You ask the question:

‘Do I regret it?’ Well, I would probably put it this way. If I knew what I know now, which included all of the opportunity, energy it would take away from the core business I would have not entered (the agreement).”

She said there were “lessons learned” and the firm now had a policy not to take on work that included moderating harmful content. The company would also not do artificial intelligence (AI) work “that supports weapons of mass destruction or police surveillance”.

Citing continuing litigation, Ms Gonzalez declined to answer if she believed the claims of employees who said they had been harmed by viewing graphic material.

Asked if she believed moderation work could be harmful in general, she said it was “a new area that absolutely needs study and resources”.

Stepping stone

Sama is an unusual outsourcing firm.

From the beginning its avowed mission was to lift people out of poverty by providing digital skills and an income doing outsourced computing tasks for technology firms.

In 2018 the BBC visited the firm, watching employees from low-income parts of Nairobi earn $9 (£7) a day on “data annotation” – labelling objects in videos of driving, such as pedestrians and street lights, which would then be used to train artificial intelligence (AI) systems. Employees interviewed said the income had helped them escape poverty.

The company still works mainly on similar computer vision AI projects, that do not expose workers to harmful content, she says.

“I’m super proud of the fact that we’ve moved over 65,000 people out of poverty,” Ms Gonzales said.

It’s important, she believes, that African people are involved in the digital economy and the development of AI systems. – BBC.

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