Placeholder Image

Subtitles section Play video

  • (dramatic music)

  • - Part of the job description was,

  • "You will be part of a team

  • "that protects free speech online,"

  • which makes it seem very heroic.

  • It felt like you were putting on a cape working at Google.

  • - Over the past year, I've been reporting on the lives

  • of Facebook's content moderators in America

  • and they've told me about their low pay,

  • their dire working conditions and in some cases,

  • the long term mental health consequences

  • of doing the work that they do.

  • A content moderator is kind of like

  • a police officer for the internet.

  • If you ever see something that you think

  • doesn't belong on a site and you report it,

  • that report is gonna be reviewed by a human being.

  • While a lot of what they see is really benign,

  • like spam, for example, some of it's really disturbing.

  • I'm talking about murder, terrorism and child exploitation.

  • Recently, I started seeing out people who did

  • this kind of work for Google and YouTube.

  • I wanted to see how their experiences compared

  • to the ones I had heard about already.

  • What I did learn surprised me.

  • (dramatic music)

  • - Part of doing our job and how they would make

  • us feel better about it was that,

  • "You guys see this so other people don't have to see this."

  • (dramatic music)

  • - Over the course of my reporting,

  • I talked to both people who worked at Google full time

  • and people who had been hired

  • on through third-party contractors.

  • It became clear to me that no matter who hired you,

  • doing this job over a long enough time period

  • can cause significant mental health consequences.

  • But it also became clear to me that there is

  • a big difference in how Google employees get treated

  • and how those third-party contractors get treated.

  • Today, a former full-time Google employee

  • named Daisy Soderberg-Rivken is going on the record

  • to talk about her experiences as a content moderator.

  • She had access to all the perks and all the benefits

  • that come with being a full-time Google employee.

  • But at the end of that day, that didn't save her

  • from the consequences of doing the job.

  • - I was a legal root removals associate,

  • which is a very fancy way of saying I was

  • a content moderator at Google.

  • - Let's talk about what the job actually was.

  • You show up, you have your orientation,

  • you sit down at your computer, it's time to do your job.

  • What is your job?

  • - You usually start your work by going through a queue.

  • So you're assigned to a queue based on either

  • an issue area or a geographic area.

  • I focused on the French market,

  • because my first languages were French and English

  • and I also worked on our child sexual abuse imagery cases

  • and our terrorism cases.

  • - And you were working primarily on web search, right?

  • - Yes, we as in-house content moderators,

  • we would usually handle more high level, complex issues.

  • Certain things that were very high volumes,

  • such as defamation and copyright were typically

  • sent over to contractors.

  • They would then escalate to us if it was kind

  • of a gray area, but if it was even a gray area for us,

  • we would then escalate to our council.

  • It was kind of levels of how specialized we were.

  • - At what point did you start to feel like you

  • were seeing more disturbing stuff than you expected?

  • - Very early on.

  • They said we would be analyzing child sexual abuse imagery

  • but I remember clearly, in parentheses, it said,

  • this kind of content would be limited to one

  • to two hours per week, when in reality,

  • we were understaffed, so we would be in there

  • sometimes five, six hours a week,

  • which sounds like nothing, but it's actually...

  • - Oh, it sounds like a lot. - It's a lot.

  • - Yeah, yeah.

  • When do you first notice that doing this job

  • was starting to affect your mental health?

  • - When I was walking around San Francisco, actually,

  • and I was with one of my friends and we saw

  • a group of kids, toddlers,

  • that were hanging on to one of those ropes

  • so that they don't go far.

  • I looked at them and then, I kind of blinked once,

  • and suddenly, I just had a flash of images

  • of some of the images I had seen, children being tied up,

  • children being raped, at that age.

  • This is three, three years old.

  • I kind of like stopped and I was kind of blinking a lot

  • and my friend had to make sure I was okay

  • and I had to sit down for a second

  • and I just exploded crying.

  • She was like, "What just happened?"

  • And I couldn't explain it to her and I just,

  • these racing thoughts and then, an instant panic attack.

  • I was having nightmares, I wasn't sleeping,

  • I had spent multiple days just crying in the bathroom.

  • I was having all of these panic attacks.

  • My work productivity just dipped.

  • Finally, my manager was like,

  • "Listen, we really need you

  • "to step up your productivity game."

  • I just snapped and I turned to him and I said,

  • "Do you understand what we're looking at

  • "and we're not machines, we're humans.

  • "So we have emotions and those emotions

  • "are deeply scarred by looking at children

  • "being raped all the time and people getting

  • "their heads chopped off."

  • It was like there was no escape and yeah,

  • I finally snapped and they took that as,

  • oh, she needs to take a second, she needs to breathe.

  • And I was said, "No, I need to leave."

  • The free food, the nap pods, all these benefits,

  • this doesn't mean anything if this is,

  • if this is my day-to-day.

  • - Daisy helped me understand how hard this job is to

  • do even when you work in the greatest office in the world.

  • But the truth is that most people don't work

  • in an office half that nice.

  • One of Google's biggest projects that it has

  • to moderate, of course, is YouTube.

  • When it comes to YouTube,

  • Google has decided to give most of the work

  • of content moderation to third-party contractors.

  • Recently, I went to Austin, Texas, to meet with a group

  • of moderators who work for Accenture on the YouTube project.

  • Specifically, they work on what is called the VE queue.

  • VE standing for violent extremism.

  • 120 times a day,

  • they review YouTube videos that have terrorism,

  • graphic violence and other disturbing content.

  • You're about to hear from one of them

  • and we've altered the audio to protect their identity.

  • - [Moderator] So, at the beginning,

  • they told you to watch some videos.

  • You're going to take some actions.

  • You will apply the YouTube polices.

  • But you don't feel how this is going to impact you.

  • - In some ways, the content moderators who do this work

  • for Google and YouTube are treated better

  • than the ones who work for Facebook.

  • Most prominently, they get two hours of break time each day.

  • Basically, two hours of paid leave in which they

  • can recover from the challenges of doing this work.

  • But, most of them aren't able

  • to take a full two hours a day.

  • - [Moderator] They're forcing you, micromanaging you

  • to have to be sitting on the desk five hours and a half.

  • And if you don't, there is going to be a punishments.

  • The schedules will be changed.

  • You will be on night shift.

  • And this is going to affect my wellness time.

  • I will never take my three hours.

  • (dramatic music)

  • - [Casey] What kind of things do they

  • do that make life hard?

  • - [Moderator] They always have complaints about everyone.

  • You know, like, I have something on you.

  • If you make any problems, you know what?

  • This is the reason that I can fire you.

  • - [Casey] Right, right.

  • - [Moderator] One of the things that they always saying

  • is if we miss one agent tomorrow, we get another 10.

  • - [Casey] So they're constantly reminding you

  • how easily you can be replaced?

  • - [Moderator] Yes.

  • The problem that's they feel stuck somewhere.

  • They can't leave the work

  • because they have responsibilities.

  • He have bills right now he have to pay.

  • - [Casey] So it sounds like people feel kind of trapped.

  • - [Moderator] They are.

  • Yeah, that's a good word.

  • - When I brought all this to Google,

  • the company told me that it takes the health

  • of its workers very seriously and pointed out

  • that it offers onsite counseling to both

  • its full-time employees and to its contractors.

  • I think it's worth pointing out, though,

  • that even though Daisy had access to that onsite counseling,

  • the counselor she had ultimately told her

  • to go seek outside help and get a therapist.

  • Daisy also eventually took medical leave

  • and ultimately got an emotional support animal to help her.

  • It's a dog named Stella.

  • - Hi five.

  • Found a psychiatrist and I found a therapist.

  • The psychiatrist put me on antidepressants.

  • I was diagnosed with chronic anxiety and PTSD.

  • And then, I started seeing a therapist just to talk

  • through these things and she said,

  • "Is legal removals associate anything close

  • "to a content moderator?"

  • And I said, "It is a content moderator."

  • And she said, "Trust me when I say you are not

  • "the first person that I've seen

  • "with this particular issue."

  • - It seems like recovering from doing this job

  • has itself been a full time job.

  • - Oh, yeah.

  • Whenever someone talks to me about content moderation,

  • I say, "I'm a recovering content moderator."

  • They're like, "Oh, you talk about it like it's,

  • "it's like alcoholism."

  • And I said, "Well, you never fully recover."

  • - One of the things that is so interesting to me

  • about your story is that you are one of the very few people

  • I've talked to who did content moderation as

  • a full time employee of a company, rather than a contractor.

  • You had access to six months of paid medical leave.

  • A contractor who's moderating for YouTube in Austin

  • doesn't have that same access.

  • - I had those months to think about my choices

  • and to think about ways out without having

  • to deal with unemployment or having to deal with

  • how am I gonna pay rent.

  • I know those contractors don't have that opportunity.

  • - The contractors I've talked with in Austin

  • ,are making $18.50 an hour, about $37,000 a year.

  • Does that seem like a high enough wage given some

  • of the risks involved?

  • - Absolutely not.

  • There's never gonna be enough money to make this okay.

  • I'm gonna be clear about that.

  • But, I think that you need to pay contractors proportional

  • to what they're going through, the impact of their work,

  • because this is so vital to the business.

  • - Let's put a fine point on it.

  • If Google can't exist without the work that you did, right,

  • like you were responding to official legal requests

  • from governments-- - Yup.

  • - That would have otherwise shut Google down

  • in their country-- - Yup.

  • - If you didn't respond.

  • - Exactly.

  • - So this is very high stakes work.

  • And yet, for some reason,

  • these companies have just chosen not to value it.

  • - Yeah, I think that contractors are so essential,

  • especially considering how much volume we have.

  • We need as many people as we can doing this work.

  • We also need to change the overall system

  • and the overall structure of how this work is being done,

  • how we support these people, how we give them tools

  • and resources to deal with these things.

  • Or else, these problems are only gonna get worse.

  • (dramatic music)

  • - Hey, thanks for watching and don't leaven any comments.