How to protect content moderators, according to Facebook’s former chief security officer

Facebook's former security chief, Alex Stamos, joined Casge Newton of The Verge on the SXSW stage to discuss the difficult issues that affect Facebook and democracy.

You can hear their discussion in its entirety at The Vergecast at this time. Below is a slightly edited extract of this interview between Stamos and Newton on how to best serve the mental health of the content moderators.

Casey Newton: Let me ask you about content moderation. I recently wrote a story about content moderators and some of the working conditions they face are really difficult. How should Facebook and other platforms think about moderation in the future? Should these employees be paid more? Should it be a full-time job?

Alex Stamos: Yes. So you can always pay people more.

I think that specifically for content moderation, you have to think about what the impacts on mental health are. I thought your story was great and I really helped to delineate those impacts. I did not have any content moderator working for me. I had a child safety team and a counterterrorism team, and the emotional and psychological impact on people is quite extreme. We were able to do a lot of things and support them because they were full-time employees.

The fundamental problem here is that companies use companies, almost all use companies like Accenture to provide content moderators, and intense mental health support can not be provided through the contractual barrier of a different employer. Accenture will never do more than what is required by contract to help its moderators. In the long run, this will reduce the need for growth from content moderation. But I suppose that within 10 years, Facebook still has the same number of content moderators who do different kinds of things. I think he will have to bring most of them home so that [Facebook] can provide support, especially to people who work on really high-risk things, such as bullying, bullying.

Terrorism and watching decapitation videos all day really start to mess up and there has actually been some psychology research on people working in these fields. Sometimes it is partial to gender, but men can become violent. There is more violence in the home for people who work in this type of work. Women sometimes become cutters. It has been reasonably stable because it has the same problem with police officers, social service workers, people who have to work with these horrible things. So I think the company has a responsibility to help.

It turns out that the laws here make it difficult. Companies can not simply hire psychologists, psychiatrists because of HIPAA and a law called ERISA. Because of the way laws work, you can not simply hire a PhD and have it on staff to see people as doctors. You have to devise a complete insurance plan and then you must offer the insurance plan to all your employees. It's a bit messed up. If Congress is looking for things to do, making small changes to the employment law to facilitate obtaining mental health services for people is really positive.

We did that kind of thing, but you can not do any of that for the contractors because it becomes what is called a joint employment situation. And so, legally, you just can not do it. And I think that's why they have to bring them home.

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