The Facebook bubble seems to be over, and the company (now known as Meta) is in crisis. Following an announcement that it is losing users for the first time, Facebook lost hundreds of billions of its stock price, the worst single-company one-day collapse in history. The last thing Meta needs is controversy, so a report highlighting a link between Facebook and an African sweatshop is problematic.
Of course, Facebook and controversy sort of go hand-in-hand. The company has a wrap sheet that includes privacy abuse, monopolization tactics, data scraping, advertising tricks, and much more. Still, for years users kept going to the platform. As customers finally turn to other platforms, Facebook is losing its lustre.
There is now something archaic about Facebook and the Social Network is also becoming dirtier by the day. It’s no wonder the company is trying to distance itself from the Facebook brand as it moves full steam ahead into the metaverse with a new name, Meta.
Even a change of parent branding cannot shake off the troubles that Facebook constantly finds itself in. The latest is a report from Billy Perrigo that appears in the latest issue of Time magazine. Perrigo paints a grim picture of an AI developer known as Sama that treats workers poorly, underpays them, and exposes them to harsh working conditions.
Described as the “ethical AI” company, Sama is an outsourcing AI firm based in California. In Kenya, 200 workers – most of them young women and men – from several African countries watch content to help train AI. This content shows suicides, child sex abuse, murders, rapes, and other unsavory videos.
It should be noted Sama partners with most tech giants, including Google and Microsoft. However, this African location is for outsourcing content moderators for Facebook, a company Sama does not confirm it is a partner with. These moderators handle perhaps the worst task a Facebook employee can do, checking to find illegal and banned content to remove it.
Facebook Content Moderating
The platform is bombarded each day with thousands of images and videos that basically show the worst of humanity. Violence, crimes, murders, rapes, sexual abuse. It’s the sort of stuff Facebook is battling to keep off the platform. It is a thankless and harrowing task to review this awful content, but the workers in Kenya do it.
What are they paid, aside from trauma? Just $1.50 per hour, making them amongst the worst paid employees at Facebook.
“At Sama, it feels like speaking the truth or standing up for your rights is a crime,” one employee tells TIME. “They made sure by firing some people that this will not happen again. I feel like it’s modern slavery, like neo-colonialism.”
It is worth reading the complete report for more accounts of the working conditions in Sama’s Africa location. Importantly, Sama denies all the allegations, stating it pays employees triple the minimum wage in Kenya. The company also points out it has a commitment to ethical AI development around the world:
“We value our employees and are proud of the long-standing work we have done to create an ethical AI supply chain,” Shriram Natarajan, the head of Sama’s Nairobi office, tells TIME. “We exist to provide ethical AI to our global customers and we are proud of the role our employees play in building new online experiences and cleaning up the internet. It’s a tough job and it’s why we invest heavily in training, personal development, wellness programs, and competitive salaries.”
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