Moderators tasked with ridding YouTube of harmful content are being made to sign waivers that acknowledge the job may give them Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
A report from The Verge reveals YouTube contractor, Accenture, which operates an office in Austin, Texas, made employees sign a waiver shortly after a prior investigation from the outlet on the effects of content moderation on contractors for Google.
As noted by The Verge, the waiver is seemingly the most overt acknowledgement that moderation jobs, which involve watching distributing videos that often depict violence and pedophilia, can often lead to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
‘It is possible that reviewing such content may impact my mental health, and it could even lead to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD),’ reads the document distributed to workers according to The Verge.
YouTube moderators are being threatened with termination if they don’t sign a waiver acknowledging that the job may cause PTSD
‘I will take full advantage of the weCare program and seek additional mental health services if needed. I will tell my supervisor/or my HR People Adviser if I believe that the work is negatively affecting my mental health.’
While Accenture said signing the document was voluntary, according to The Verge employees who currently worker for the contractor say they were threatened with being fired if they refused to sign.
Language in the waiver also places onus on employees to seek help from one of Accenture’s on-site mental health counselors, but does not outline reasonable accommodation for employees that may be unable to work as a result of moderation-related PTSD.
As noted by The Verge, failure to accommodate employees afflicted with PTSD may violate federal law.
Any termination resulting from a PTSD or other mental health diagnosis would also violate federal law, says a legal expert interviewed by The Verge.
‘I’m acknowledging that if I disclose my mental health to you, you may be able to fire me. That isn’t allowed,’ Alreen Haeggquist, an employee rights attorney based in California, told the outlet.
Accenture claims that the document is meant as a general disclosure to employees and says that it doesn’t require any employee to disclose a medical condition to the company.
What is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder caused by very stressful, frightening or distressing events.
People with PTSD often suffer nightmares and flashbacks to the traumatic event and can experience insomnia and an inability to concentrate.
Symptoms are often severe enough to have a serious impact on the person’s day-to-day life, and can emerge straight after the traumatic event or years later.
PTSD is thought to affect about one in every three people who have a traumatic experience, and was first documented in the First World War in soldiers with shell shock.
People who are worried they have PTSD should visit their GP, who could recommend a course of psychotherapy or anti-depressants, the NHS say.
Combat Stress operate a 24-hour helpline for veterans, which can be reached on 0800 138 1619.
News of Accenture’s company-wide waiver follows several other similar reports of work-related PTSD and abusive conditions relating to contractors who moderate content for Twitter, Facebook, and Google.
It’s unclear whether Accenture moderators who contract for Twitter or Facebook are being required to sign the same waiver as those who do work for YouTube.
In December, The Verge reported that Accenture hired dozens of low-paid immigrants from countries in the Middle East to rid platforms like YouTube, which is owned by Google, of terrorist propaganda, some of which is disturbing.
In other parts of the world, like Dublin, Ireland, Facebook is facing legal action over allegations that it failed to provide its moderators adequate toilet break in conditions that staff described as ‘humiliating.’
Employees in Facebook’s Dublin moderation office must also log-in and log-out every time they leave their desks. If senior managers believe that the length of the break is too long, the employee must provide an explanation.
Facebook is also facing a lawsuit from moderators based in California for similar grievances.
Beyond just being humiliating, one particularly harrowing incident described by The Verge last year highlighted the in-office death of one of the company’s employees, Keith Utley. Employees interviewed by The Verge say the job’s stress contributed to a heart attack that led to his passing.
As a result of that stress, The Verge has also reported that employees often turn to the use of drugs and alcohol while on the job.
According to Berlin -based contractors interviewed by The Guardian last year, constant exposure to disturbing content on Facebook has caused some moderators to become ‘addicted’ to graphic content, leading them to accumulate troves of objectionable media for their own personal archives.
Sources told The Guardian the work has even influenced moderators’ political and social views, driven primarily by the frequent consumption of fake news and hate speech that floods the platform.