Some YouTube content moderators are reportedly being told they could be fired if they don’t sign ‘voluntary’ statements acknowledging their jobs could give them PTSD

Monday, January 27th 2020. | Care

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  • Some YouTube content moderators are being forced to sign documents that acknowledge their jobs could lead to PTSD and negatively impact their mental health, according to a new report in The Verge.
  • These employees work out of a site in Austin, Texas, operated by Accenture, one of the companies that hires contract workers to review content for big networks like Google, Facebook, and Twitter.
  • It's possible these documents are a step Accenture is taking to absolve itself from legal blame as more content moderators come forward with lawsuits alleging their jobs directly led to PTSD symptoms.
  • There's a sordid, well-documented history of content moderators reviewing graphic and disturbing imagery — jobs that have taken tolls on their mental health and led to psychological trauma.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Some YouTube moderators are reportedly being told they could lose their jobs if they don't sign a document acknowledging that these jobs — which often involve often gruesome and disturbing content — could lead to PTSD and serious mental health problems.

The Verge reports that content moderators based in Austin, Texas, were given statements to sign about the impact of their jobs on their personal well-being. The document was distributed to employees only days after a report in The Verge shared that several content moderators at that location were struggling with PTSD and psychological drama as a result of their jobs.

The document may be one of the most stark acknowledgments so far of the effects of content moderation on workers' mental health. However, it also raises concerns about whether the document is meant to shift the onus and responsibility of dealing with employee mental health to individuals, rather than the company.

"It is possible that reviewing such content may impact my mental health, and it could even lead to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)," the document says, according to the Verge. "I will tell my supervisor/or my HR People Adviser if I believe that the work is negatively affecting my mental health."

The moderators in the Verge article are actually employees of Accenture, one of the several companies that hires contract workers to review content on Google, Facebook, Twitter, and other tech companies at off-site locations. There are large content moderation sites in US cities like Phoenix, Arizona and Tampa, Florida, as well as internationally in India, the Philippines, and Dublin.

Over the last several years, reports and accounts have increasingly come out of these sites documenting the gruesome and disturbing content these workers are tasked with reviewing, including beheadings, bestiality, and suicides. Other news stories have shed light on the horrible conditions these contract employees function under at these off-site moderation locations, where they earn minimal pay and get few opportunities for reprieve from their emotional jobs.

Furthermore, some content moderators have spoken out about the symptoms of psychological trauma they have ad a result of their jobs. A Verge report in February detailed stories of employees coping by telling dark jokes about suicide, having sex with coworkers at the office, and smoking weed during the day. Others have shared stories of getting diagnosed with PTSD, and their employers' inability to manage their mental health.

Some former content moderators have taken to suing these contracting companies, as well as the big tech firms they moderated for, over the psychological trauma they suffered as a result of their jobs.

It's unclear whether the document Accenture is giving to content moderators is a move to shift the responsibility of mental health care onto individual employees, and thus absolve the company in the face of increasing lawsuits from former moderators.

"I understand how important it is to monitor my own mental health, particularly since my psychological symptoms are primarily only apparent to me," the document reportedly says. "Strict adherence to all the requirements in this document is mandatory … Failure to meet the requirements would amount to serious misconduct and for Accenture employees may warrant disciplinary action up to and including termination."

Accenture did not respond to Business Insider's request for comment. The company told The Verge that the document was voluntary. However, two employees told The Verge they were threatened with being fired if they didn't sign.

In a statement to Business Insider, YouTube said it had no role in directing Accenture to distribute the document, and defended Google's use of outside companies for hiring content moderators.

"Moderators do vital and necessary work to keep digital platforms safer for everyone," the YouTube spokesperson said. "We choose the companies we partner with carefully and require them to provide comprehensive resources to support moderators' wellbeing and mental health."

Read The Verge's full report here.

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