• Three months in hell

    Germany has become one of Facebook’s most important hubs for content moderation - also fueled by a controversial new law that requires social media companies to effectively remove hate speech and violence. In Berlin and Essen more than 1000 people work as Facebook Content Moderators, most of them employed by the outsourcing company Arvato, a subsidiary of Bertelsmann, one of Germany’s most powerful companies. Yet the work and the rules of content moderation is done in secrecy. In a year-long investigation, our reporters Hannes Grassegger and Till Krause spoke to dozens of current and former content moderators working for Facebook in Germany and have written several award-winning reports (»Inside Facebook«) that made the working conditions and deletion rules (»The secret rules of Facebook«) of Facebook public. Recently they have been contacted by Burcu Gültekin Punsmann, a former employee who, for the first time, gives a personal account of her work as a content moderator. We have slightly shortened and edited her piece for clarity.

    As a new comer to Berlin in July 2017, I found myself in a job in content moderation at Arvato. Curiosity has a been a main driver. I accepted the very unappealing job offer and entered into a world I haven’t suspected the existence of. I was recruited as an outsourced reviewer and became one of the thousands of Facebook Community Operations team members around the world working in some 40 languages. Berlin, draining well-educated multilingual cheap labor from all over the world, has recently developed, as I would learn, as new center for Facebook content moderation, as the German government toughened the legislation against hate speech.

    • The mental operations are evaluated as being too complex for algorithms. Nevertheless moderators are expected to act as a computer. The search for uniformity and standardization, together with the strict productivity metrics, lets not much space for human judgment and intuition. At the end of the ramp-up process, a moderator should handle approximately 1300 reports every day which let him/her in average only a few seconds to reach a decision for each report. The intellectually challenging task tends to become an automated action almost a reaction. Repetition triggers a sense of frustration and alienation. Reflection is not encouraged, the agent has very limited initiative, s/he can only collect examples to address policy loopholes.
      Talking about verbal violence, the agent quickly becomes an expert in slurs and ways of cursing. The vocabulary at use is indeed quite limited; I found some long post aiming at cursing at a person sometimes fascinating. Trying to differentiate cursing from sexual exploitation was another major source of difficulty. It had never occurred to me previously that the cursing vocabulary could be so sexually suggestive and gendered. Bullying is particularly widespread and a source of headache for the content moderator. It is not limited to teenagers. Seeing how cruel and pitiless one could be against another person profoundly disturbed me. Many post seemed to be only motivated by the intention to hurt. Many were expressions of pure sadism.