Facebook content moderators claim managers tried to breach therapy privacy

19 Aug 2019

Image: © naito8/Stock.adobe.com

A letter from Facebook content moderators in Texas claims that a manager attempted to pressure counsellors to divulge details of private therapy sessions.

Facebook content moderators are required to trawl through some of the most gruesome user-generated content on the social media platform. Posts can range from violent attacks to, reportedly, people being murdered.

Many moderators can turn to on-site counsellors to help them cope with the images and videos they see. Yet a report published by The Intercept has claimed the outsourcing company that employs some of these moderators, Accenture, “repeatedly attempted to violate the confidentiality of these therapy sessions”.

A letter drafted by around a dozen moderators who work across Facebook and Instagram in Austin, Texas, alleged that an Accenture manager attempted to pressure multiple on-site counsellors to share information pertaining to what was discussed in employee trauma sessions.

Accenture sources interviewed by The Intercept said the information in these sessions was understood by both counsellors and employees to be confidential. Moderators speaking under the condition of anonymity claimed that a therapist, known internally as a “wellness coach”, refused to discuss the sessions with Accenture management and later resigned over the incident.

According to the letter, obtained and reproduced by The Intercept, an Accenture manager asked a counsellor to “divulge the content of their session” with an employee. When the counsellor refused, the manager “pressed on by stating that because this was not a clinical setting, confidentiality did not exist”.

The letter claimed that this practice was “at best a careless breach of trust into the wellness program and, at worst, an ethics and possible legal violation”. The letter called for the Accenture manager in question to be removed from the project immediately. “To do any less would be Facebook, Accenture, and [Accenture wellness programme] WeCare condoning breaches in medical confidentiality,” it said.

‘No violation’

Per The Intercept, an outsourcing manager at Facebook said that an internal investigation had found “no violation of breach of trust between our licensed counsellors and a contracted employee”, though said that it would address this with Accenture “to ensure everyone is handling this appropriately” and added that the team’s wellness coaches will receive a “refresh” on what they are and are not permitted to share.

A spokesperson from Facebook said in a statement: “All of our partners must provide a resiliency plan that is reviewed and approved by Facebook. This includes a holistic approach to wellbeing and resiliency that puts the needs of their employees first.

“All leaders and wellness coaches receive training on this employee resource and while we do not believe that there was a breach of privacy, in this case, we have used this as an opportunity to re-emphasise that training across the organisation.”

Accenture said in a statement that the allegations were “inaccurate”. “Our people’s wellbeing is our top priority and our trust and safety teams in Austin have unrestricted access to wellness support,” it added.

A spokesperson from Accenture told Siliconrepublic.com that the company “immediately investigated the posts from last week and confirmed the allegations are without merit”, adding that it takes issue with “the accuracy of several things reported” by The Intercept.

Facebook could not be reached at this time for further comment.

Updated, 2.00pm, 19 August 2019: This article was updated to include additional comment from an Accenture spokesperson.

Eva Short was a journalist at Silicon Republic