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Big Revolution - Don't be moderate with moderation

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Welcome to Tuesday's Big Revolution newsletter. Today I'm heading to speak to journalism students at
 
February 26 · Issue #357 · View online
Big Revolution
Welcome to Tuesday’s Big Revolution newsletter. Today I’m heading to speak to journalism students at a university about their projects. But first – time to hit ‘send’ on what you read below…
– Martin from Big Revolution

Big things you need to know today
  • Microsoft’s CEO has defended the Hololens military contract that upset some employees. Satya Nadella says the company will not “withhold technology” from democratic governments.
The big thought
Credit: Thought Catalog on Unsplash
Don’t be moderate with moderation
The most shocking story you’ll read this week may already have been published, and it’s only Tuesday. The Verge has done a deep dive into the lives of people who work as Facebook content moderators for a contracting company in Arizona. And it doesn’t make for pleasant reading.
“Collectively, the employees described a workplace that is perpetually teetering on the brink of chaos. It is an environment where workers cope by telling dark jokes about committing suicide, then smoke weed during breaks to numb their emotions. It’s a place where employees can be fired for making just a few errors a week — and where those who remain live in fear of the former colleagues who return seeking vengeance.
It’s a place where, in stark contrast to the perks lavished on Facebook employees, team leaders micromanage content moderators’ every bathroom and prayer break; where employees, desperate for a dopamine rush amid the misery, have been found having sex inside stairwells and a room reserved for lactating mothers; where people develop severe anxiety while still in training, and continue to struggle with trauma symptoms long after they leave; and where the counseling that Cognizant offers them ends the moment they quit — or are simply let go.
Seriously, read the whole thing – it paints a depressing image of what happens to those charged with protecting us from the worst aspects of humanity. Many find it challenging to cope, and to cap it all, they’re only paid $15 per hour – just $4 above the minimum wage in Arizona.
It’s interesting that that this has only become such a big talking point in tech circles now that American workers are being affected. Similar reports in the past about other content moderation hubs in other parts of the world were quickly forgotten and passed without a bland blog post from Facebook.
Beyond that, it raises the question of what could be done better? In the absence of A.I. good enough to do the job, humans have to moderate this stuff, and that means humans have to see it – and get affected by it.
‘Give them more support and pay them better’ is the logical answer. Some will argue that the economics for that are challenging. Facebook needs a lot of content moderators – and they’re likely to need even more in the future. And while they serve a useful function, they don’t generate revenue.
That’s a cold argument of limited merit, though. Facebook needs these moderators, and it has a duty of care to them. The Verge’s article and Facebook’s own post make clear that the company believes it looks after them well.
But as the piece’s author, Casey Newton says:
"The more moderators I spoke with, the more I came to doubt the use of the call center model for content moderation… (this kind of outsourcing) entrusts essential questions of speech and safety to people who are paid as if they were handling customer service calls for Best Buy.”
No matter how many moderators are needed, Facebook should pay them like professionals and give them the right kind of support and working environment to do the job without resorting to drugs to get through the day. If it’s a valuable role, it needs paying like one.
Sure, one day these jobs will be replaced by A.I., but isn’t that the case for many of us?
One big read
Do Not Disturb: How I Ditched My Phone and Unbroke My Brain Do Not Disturb: How I Ditched My Phone and Unbroke My Brain
How to break the bad habits caused by relying on our phones far too much.
“It’s an unnerving sensation, being alone with your thoughts in the year 2019. Catherine had warned me that I might feel existential malaise when I wasn’t distracting myself with my phone. She also said paying more attention to my surroundings would make me realize how many other people used their phones to cope with boredom and anxiety.”
One big tweet
Probably true of all meetings, not just product-related ones:
Norgard
A useful tool is to end every product meeting with the following question, "Is this the simplest solution we can come up with."
6:05 PM - 25 Feb 2019
That’s all for today...
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