Irish content moderators prepare lawsuit against Facebook and CPL

4 Dec 2019

Facebook’s EMEA headquarters in Dublin. Image: Faithie/Depositphotos

A group of moderators is seeking damages for personal injuries caused by exposure to graphic content while working on behalf of Facebook in Dublin.

Throughout the year, it was reported that former Facebook content moderators could be primed to sue the social media giant, claiming that the content they were exposed to in the workplace has had a lasting effect on their mental and physical health.

In September, the Personal Injuries Assessment Board gave a group of former moderators in Ireland the go-ahead to serve proceedings against Facebook in the High Court.

According to Vice News and the Irish Times, a group is now seeking damages for personal injuries caused by being exposed to graphic sexual and violent content during their employment by third-party outsourcing company CPL in Dublin, on behalf of Facebook. The former employees are reported to be taking action against Facebook in Dublin, where it has its EMEA headquarters.

In a recent article by Vice, New Jersey-native Sean Burke outlined some of the images he claims to have seen while working for Facebook moderation in Dublin. “My first day on the job, I witnessed someone being beaten to death with a plank of wood with nails in it and repeatedly stabbed,” he told the publication.

After this, Burke said that he witnessed images of child sexual abuse and bestiality while weeding out content that was unsuitable for the platform. Along with other CPL employees, he said he suffers from “psychological trauma” as a result of the working conditions and “a lack of proper training”.

Vice reported that 50-year-old Dubliner Chris Gray is spearheading the legal activity, after spending 10 months working as a moderator for the social media platform. Gray has been diagnosed with PTSD and wants to obtain access to data that will enable him to “quantify” what he has been exposed to.

According to the Irish Times, Gray began a legal action against the Irish subsidiary of Facebook in the High Court today (4 December).

The aim of the lawsuit

While Facebook is currently the subject of a lawsuit in California, brought forward by former moderators working on behalf of the company in the US, Vice News reported that the lawsuit being filed in Dublin this week could lead to serious consequences for the company.

The lawsuit will be led by Dublin-based solicitor Diane Treanor, who told Vice News: “Obviously, there are thousands of moderators employed throughout Europe. We have been liaising with moderators in Barcelona and Berlin and have had inquiries from Sweden.”

She added that there is potential for the lawsuit to snowball as more moderators hear of the case and come forward, as there are currently around 15,000 low-paid workers moderating Facebook content through third-party companies. These workers are spread between sites in Ireland, Germany, Spain, Latvia, Kenya and the US, among others.

Earlier this year, Facebook published its twice-a-year Community Standards Enforcement Report, which stated that in the first three months of 2019, the platform had to remove 5.4m pieces of content that violated its standards on child sexual abuse and exploitation. In the same period, a further 33.6m items were removed for violent and graphic content.

Treanor said that Facebook needs to “address the failure” and work to protect future employees. “We are seeking to ensure future moderators will have access to counsellors and healthcare professionals while working for Facebook and after they leave the company,” she added.

In response to the Vice article, Facebook said that this work “can be difficult at times” but that company treats its employees’ wellbeing as a “top priority” by providing workers with psychological supports including yoga, fitness, mindfulness and resiliency training. Vice’s full report can be read here.

Facebook’s EMEA headquarters in Dublin. Image: Faithie/Depositphotos

Kelly Earley was a journalist with Silicon Republic