Former moderators sue TikTok over claims of failing to provide protection from "unsavory content"

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TikTok content moderators have a very important role in making the platform safe for users. They serve as the human nets that screen the harmful content to prevent them from surfacing into the public. The problem? The videos these individuals are reviewing are often “highly toxic and extremely disturbing,” taking a toll on their mental health. On Thursday, two former TikTok content reviewers sued TikTok and its parent company, ByteDance, concerning the said issue while claiming that the company failed to provide them the support they need to alleviate the adverse impacts of their job.

Ashley Velez and Reece Young are the two plaintiffs who used to work as contractors for TikTok, with the former hired by Telus International and the latter by Atrium. The two filed a federal lawsuit demanding class action status over allegations that TikTok showed negligence and broke the California labor laws by failing to protect them from the adverse emotional effects of their tasks.

“We would see death and graphic, graphic pornography. I would see nude underage children every day,” Velez said in an interview with NPR. “I would see people get shot in the face, and another video of a kid getting beaten made me cry for two hours straight… People like us have to filter out the unsavory content. Somebody has to suffer and see this stuff so nobody else has to.”

Moreover, the suit claims that the workers were placed in an unsafe work environment without the proper mental health treatment aid that will help them process the effects of their jobs, such as post-traumatic stress, anxiety, and depression. Telus International spokeswoman Jennifer Bach, on the other hand, said that the company “has a robust resiliency and mental health program in place to support all our team members, as well as a comprehensive benefits program for access to personal health and well-being services.” Velez, however, contradicted the statement.

“They saw so many people that it didn’t seem like they had time to actually help you with what you were suffering with,” Velez said. “It would have been nice if they would even acknowledge that the videos were causing a problem in the first place.”

The suit further discusses that TikTok and ByteDance pay the moderators depending on their performance, forcing them to reach nearly unreachable quotas each day. It also says that the moderators must only review the videos “for no longer than 25 seconds,” pushing them to watch multiple contents to meet the quota. The suit further details that over a 12-hour workday, Young and Velez were only given two 15-minute breaks and one hour for lunch. According to it, taking other breaks than the ones given would affect the pay of the moderators. The plaintiffs’ attorneys described it as “making them extremely ill-equipped to handle the mentally devastating imagery their work required them to view without any meaningful counseling or meaningful breaks during their work.”

Yet, the company claims that it offers “a range of wellness services so that moderators feel supported mentally and emotionally.”