Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg should try spending one day at Facebook's nightmarish content moderation center in Tampa, Florida

Zuckerberg SandbergJustin Sullivan / David Ramos / Getty Images

  • A new report from The Verge's Casey Newton sheds a harsh light on the lives of Facebook's content moderators in the United States, who are reportedly overworked, overstressed, and underpaid.
  • Current and former content moderators shared horrific experiences, where they were regularly subjected to intense graphic violence online and dealt with terrible work conditions in person.
  • Facebook's executives, particularly Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg, should try spending just one day at this content moderation center in Tampa, Florida, and see if these contractors are getting paid enough to do the heavy lifting of cleaning up Facebook.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

The Verge's Casey Newton just published an important but disturbing story about Facebook's unsung heroes: the people who continuously scan the social network for hate speech, child pornography, and graphic violence in efforts to remove it from the platform.

It's something that Facebook leaders Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg really need to see in person.

These folks are paid roughly $15 an hour - as little as $28,800 a year, Newton reports - and experience horrific work conditions like bed bugs, sexual harassment, and threats of violence, per the report. Workers tell the Verge that they suffer from extreme stress and regularly get into fights with each other, but lack any real support system. An on-site counselor reportedly told one contractor, "I don't really know how to help you guys."

That's before you even get into the nitty-gritty of what these people do on a daily basis, which is police the terrifying and disturbing videos uploaded to the platform's billion-plus users.

Content moderators must watch 15 to 30 seconds of any video before taking action like notifying the authorities - even though these people never hear feedback, according to the report. Here are some examples of the absolutely brutal material these people are subjected to on a regular basis, according to The Verge:

  • People throwing puppies into a river
  • People putting lit fireworks in the mouths of dogs
  • People mutilating the genitals of a live mouse
  • A man slaughtering puppies with a baseball bat
  • Teenagers beating an iguana to death
  • "A rash of videos that depicted organs being harvested from children"

The people mentioned in this story work at one particular content moderation site in Tampa, Florida, which is operated by a professional services firm called Cognizant.

According to The Verge, Cognizant won a 2-year, $200 million contract with Facebook to help moderate content on the social network.

But Cognizant's contractors don't catch many breaks, according to the report: To be specific, they receive two 15-minute breaks and one 30-minute lunch each day. Since Cognizant reportedly doesn't offer sick leave (it's not mandatory in the state of Florida), people are forced to use personal leave whenever work becomes too intense to handle. One woman described going into work even though she was sick, but since she used up all of her bathroom breaks, she was forced to throw up into a trash can at her desk.

Here are some of the other horrible work scenarios described in this story (which you must read):
  • A stressed-out worker and collapsed at his desk, suffering from a heart attack. He was pronounced dead at the hospital.
  • Senior managers mocked a woman whose colostomy bag broke while sitting at her desk.
  • An employee threatened to "shoot up the building," was put on paid leave, and allowed to return. He was fired after another similar incident occurred.
  • Two women reported men sexually harassing them in the office, and when they complained, one of the men threatened to shoot up the office. One of men was also photographed following one of the women home.
  • An attorney for several Cognizant contractors says many harassment claims are "ignored or retaliated against."
  • Altercations, including verbal and physical fights, regularly break out at the workplace.

Many of the people described in the story said they suffer from varying types of daily stress, including PTSD, which affect their sleep and sanity.

I would like to see Mark Zuckerberg or Sheryl Sandberg spend just one day in this place.

Facebook already has a person in charge of its global contractor workforce, named Arun Chandra. He told The Verge that Facebook plans on doing more audits and unannounced visits of its moderation centers. But having a visit from Chandra, who has only worked at Facebook for about six months, is not the same as getting a visit from Zuckerberg or Sandberg.

Facebook's executive leadership needs to leave their glass-walled conference rooms and experience the lives of these workers first-hand. An announced visit wouldn't be enough, since these offices usually clean themselves up before someone from Facebook or the press comes for an official tour. But a boots-on-the-ground approach is absolutely necessary here; they should not leave it up to Cognizant to improve the lives of its workers.

Facebook is a money-making machine. Sure, Cognizant likely bargained with Facebook to win the contract, but Facebook could and should do better for these contractors, who are enduring videos of graphic violence and organ harvesting to keep millions of other people safe.

Facebook said in May that it would up contractor wages by $3 an hour, but that's a middling raise that won't even take effect for another full year. What these contractors do for Facebook is extremely important - arguably it's of the utmost importance - and they deserve better than low wages and outrageous work conditions.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Business Insider.

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