Africa: Facebook’s outsourcer Sama quits as moderation controversy persists

By Jaysim Hanspal

Posted on Wednesday, 25 January 2023 14:27
The logo of Meta Platforms' business group. REUTERS

Kenyan outsourcing firm Sama announced on 10 January that it would no longer provide moderating services for Meta starting from March as it is refocusing on facilitating its data labelling work. The move has renewed calls for better moderation of Facebook’s content.

In February 2022, TIME released an exposé into the “ethical AI” company’s treatment of workers that led to numerous cases of post-traumatic stress syndrome. Workers, including Daniel Motaung, who is now suing Facebook for mistreatment, made just $2.50 an hour.

Sama has now said it will lay off 3% of its staff – approximately 200 employees – to streamline operations and boost efficiency. Sama will continue to operate Meta’s data labelling services, they added.

Workers speaking confidentially to Foxglove, a not-for-profit that is representing Sama whistleblower David Motaung, have said they expect another outsourcing company, Majorel, to fill the void left by Sama. It pays moderators around half of what Sama pays at the moment – approximately $1.25.

In 2021, the continent received $4.77bn worth of venture funding – 2.5 times the capital raised in the previous year, but this does not seem to be translating into better wages and conditions for African workers.

“We respect Sama’s decision to exit the content review services it provides to social media platforms,” says a Meta spokesperson. “We’ll work with our partners during this transition to ensure there’s no impact on our ability to review content.”

In hot water

Meta is currently facing two lawsuits, including one from Motaung and Foxglove, over the alleged labour abuses and the prevention of unionisation in their Kenya offices.

When interviewed by The Africa Report in March, Motaung said, “Sama targets poor people. When you are poor, it is difficult to negotiate things in a work environment”.

An open letter signed by a group of more than 80 organisations and individuals last July spoke out against alleged attempts by Facebook to silence the whistleblower.

It reads: “It should be a source of intense shame for Meta, one of the richest companies on earth, that it has chosen to focus its corporate clout and resources on the latter course of action. Sama, a company that professes to champion dignified work for all but has instead treated its own workers with callous disdain, should equally hang its head.”

The other lawsuit against the social media conglomerate accuses it of allowing violent posts to flourish on Facebook, inflaming civil conflict in Ethiopia.

In October 2021, Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen testified to the US Senate that the social media giant is well aware of the negative impacts of the site, including “ethnic violence” in Ethiopia and Myanmar, which was at the time experiencing mass violent protests as a result of a coup d’état.

More moderators

Digital rights campaigners have urged Meta to radically improve their content moderation services, which are lacking, compared to wealthier countries with far better tech regulations.

“With the exit of Sama, now would be a good chance for Meta to put things right and ensure better labour conditions for African moderators in the region,” said Bridget Andere, Africa policy analyst at Access Now.

“Meta should increase the number of moderators for the region to adequately cover local languages and dialects, and also be more transparent about their algorithms which are promoting harmful content,” she told Reuters.

Forbes recently revealed Tiktok’s internal “heating” protocol, a manual push that ensures specific videos “achieve a certain number of video views”. This is just the tip of the iceberg in uncovering the puissance of social media giants, who have virtually no up-to-date tech regulation to hold them accountable.

In our recent investigation of Tiktok’s activities in Ghana, we found multiple attempts to push lies and false narratives ahead of the 2024 elections in the West African nation, as well as videos containing violent and illegal activities. These directly went against the app’s terms of service, community guidelines, and safety policies – surely a greater priority for the company.

On 6 February, a judge in Nairobi will decide whether Motaung’s lawsuit has jurisdiction to continue.

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