Nearly 200 Meta content moderators who used to work at the tech company’s Mountain View office and now work in Fremont had their contracts terminated this month, according to affected workers who spoke to this news organization.
After Meta broke its lease at the San Antonio Center in Mountain View late last year, the company cited its goal to build “a best-in-class remote work experience” as a reason. The office space was occupied by Accenture-employed content moderators working under contract for Meta.
But soon after, those moderators revealed that rather than having the option to work remotely – a privilege granted to most of Meta’s full-time employees – they were still required to work in person, most recently at Meta’s Fremont office.
Employees were working there on Jan. 11 when they were told to stop their tasks and join a town hall, where they were informed that Meta was terminating its contract with Accenture content moderators in the Fremont office. About 150 to 175 employees were impacted by this decision, according to workers interviewed by this organization.
“It wasn’t a shock to me because they’ve done this to the full-time employees a few months ago, they did this to another contractor that used to share the building with us,” said John, one of the content moderators. The Voice agreed not to use his real name over concerns it would affect his future employment.
He said he found the announcement surprising, though not shocking. But reactions varied, John said, describing the mood of the office as “textbook grieving.”
“For several other coworkers, I’m not going to lie, they had breakdowns after that call,” John said. “... There were angry people, there were sad people, there were very numb people.”
He estimated that there are about 700 full-time employees who work at the Fremont campus.
The day after the announcement was made, full-time Meta employees at the Fremont office were invited to a happy hour featuring wine and dinner, a weekly event that the contracted employees were not invited to, John said.
“It was highly upsetting,” he said of the happy hour.
When asked to confirm the contract termination, as well as the reasoning behind it, Meta did not address a list of emailed questions. Instead, a Meta spokesperson said in a statement, “We regularly review our content enforcement policies, systems and vendors to ensure that we are operating as efficiently and effectively as possible for the billions of people who use our apps every day.”
John said his and his colleagues' last day is Jan. 27, and the soon-to-be former employees have major concerns about who will pick up their workloads once they’re gone.
These Accenture employees are contracted by Meta to moderate content on the company’s social media platforms, Facebook and Instagram, which have come under scrutiny in recent years for the kind of content its users are allowed to post and see.
“That’s the million dollar question in my mind,” John said. “... We’ve been told over and over again, ‘Keep pushing guys, this is what’s keeping Facebook from devolving into what Twitter is right now.’ So I have no idea how they’re going to manage this content that we were already short-staffed on running.”
Twitter recently laid off a large number of its contracted employees, including content moderators, The Verge reported. John said that this caused a rise in racist comments and hate speech. He said he expects similar effects at Facebook and Meta in six to eight months.
When asked who will now handle the terminated employees’ work, Meta said that “there will be no impact on our content review capabilities as a result of this change.”
Another content moderator impacted by the cut, Ryan, whose name has also been changed for this story, said his team has historically focused on preventing political misinformation from circulating on Meta platforms. He also encounters a fair amount of violent content that he and his team remove from the platform.
“After what happened to Nancy Pelosi’s husband, when he got attacked, that was a big thing that was showing up a lot on Facebook and Instagram,” Ryan said. “So our job was to make sure that we were removing any kind of posts or comments that were in favor of, say, someone attacking a political figure physically.”
Ryan added that his team was also on the lookout for “any potential items or clues that would indicate that people were thinking about doing another Jan. 6 insurrection.”
“Around election time, our job was to make sure that if there was anyone that was praising the insurrection or potentially saying, ‘We have to do Jan. 6 all over again,’ we were definitely on the lookout for that as well,” Ryan said.
Content moderation is well-documented as an emotionally arduous job. Employees like John and Ryan have to parse through often disturbing content for hours at a time.
“One of my good friends, he knew the nature of the job that I do, and he said something that stuck with me,” Ryan said. “He said, ‘Thank you for looking at and removing all the bad stuff so my kids won’t have to look at it.’ That was kind of a motivating thing for myself.”
Ryan suspects that Meta, like many large companies across the tech industry, is making cuts like this one in an attempt to protect its profitability amid the economic downturn.
“They decided they need to cut costs, and one of the things that, in their eyes, they can afford to cut would be the people who work to monitor and make sure that their platform is safe,” Ryan said.
According to John, the contract employees had recently been given raises, which added to the blindsiding nature of this decision. Neither Meta nor Accenture would confirm who sets raises when asked by the Voice, but employees said they believed it to be negotiated between Accenture and Meta and based on a certain amount of hours. Accenture charges Meta for their employees' hours worked, and the employees have to meet that quota as a department.
Ryan said he received the highest raise offered during this time, and expressed his disappointment that he only received that pay rate for two months. John said that he believed Meta was aware it would be laying off the content moderators when these raises were offered, but Meta would not confirm this.
“We were being told and encouraged to take time off and go spend time with our families,” John said. “Then this hits us right now. I know a lot of people who got raises and kind of went all-out on Christmas stuff this year.”
The employees that this news organization spoke with said that they were concerned about stability with a lack of job opportunities in California. Several major tech companies, including Meta, Twitter and Google have laid off large swaths of employees recently, and John said he had concerns about the ability to find a job on less than a month’s notice.
Employees were given the option to either stay on with Accenture for six weeks while the company tries to find them another contracted position, or take a severance package. If employees choose the first option and cannot be placed in a position by an unnamed date in March, Accenture will let them go.
John and Ryan both said they were considering accepting the offer to be placed at another position through Accenture due to concerns about job availability.
But Ryan said he wouldn’t be surprised if Meta has to rehire content moderators come election season next year.
“I knew when I first got hired on, it was a reaction to the controversies that had happened regarding the elections in 2016,” Ryan said. “I do feel that we did a lot of good, but also that, at the time, you could see it was almost like a PR move.”
“Our job was to police Facebook in order to ensure that the depravity of humanity doesn’t show up on there.”