Facebook content reviewers are coping with PTSD symptoms by having sex and doing drugs at work, report says

Key Points
  • Former and current Facebook content reviewers in Arizona say they've seen colleagues develop PTSD and begin to believe in conspiracy theories.
  • Several told The Verge that workers resort to sex and drugs on the job to cope with stress.
  • One man told The Verge he started bringing a gun to work for protection from former vengeful employees.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg
Marlene Awaad | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Facebook content reviewers in the U.S. have resorted to extreme measures to cope with the stress of repeatedly viewing graphic and offensive material, according to a new report from The Verge.

In a wide-ranging exploration of working conditions at Facebook's content moderation facility in Arizona, which is operated by a vendor called Cognizant, The Verge described an office where employees cope with intense stress by using drugs and having sex at work. One employee told The Verge he brought a gun to work because he feared retaliation from former employees.

The moderators are reportedly paid $15 per hour to work through a queue of content that could range from offensive jokes to potential threats to videos depicting murder.

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In a statement, a Facebook spokesperson said: "We value the hard work of content reviewers and have certain standards around their well-being and support. We work with only highly reputable global partners that have standards for their workforce, and we jointly enforce these standards with regular touch points to ensure the work environment is safe and supportive, and that the most appropriate resources are in place." The company later posted a longer blog post about its work with its partners like Cognizant and steps it is taking to ensure a healthy working environment for content reviewers.

According to a statement sent by Facebook, a Cognizant spokesperson said the company has investigated the issues raised by The Verge and "previously taken action where necessary and have steps in place to continue to address these concerns and any others raised by our employees. In addition to offering a comprehensive wellness program at Cognizant, including a safe and supportive work culture, 24x7 phone support and onsite counselor support to employees, Cognizant has partnered with leading HR and Wellness consultants to develop the next generation of wellness practices." Cognizant did not directly respond to CNBC's request for comment.

Contracted moderators get two 15-minute breaks, one 30-minute lunch and nine minutes of "wellness time" per day, The Verge reported, but much of that time is spent waiting on long lines for the bathroom where three stalls per restroom serve hundreds of employees. Some use these stalls as places to have sex at work to cope with the stress, The Verge said. Others have resorted to lactation rooms, which became such a problem last year that management removed locks from the doors, it reported.

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Some employees used drugs at work to numb the pain, according to the report. Workers described to The Verge regularly smoking marijuana on the job and joking to each other about "drinking to forget."

One former Cognizant worker said he had started bringing a gun to work in hopes of protecting himself and he continues to sleep with a gun nearby even now that he's left. He said he feared threats from fired employees at the time, which included warnings that they would hurt their former colleagues. The worker said he began to believe some of the conspiracy theories he was exposed to at work, like that 9/11 was not a terrorist attack or that the Las Vegas massacre was committed by multiple gunmen, even though the FBI has said it was committed by one gunman.

The worker told The Verge he has since been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and generalized anxiety disorder. When The Verge asked a counselor at Cognizant about risks of contractors developing PTSD, the counselor instead said some people can experience "post-traumatic growth," where trauma victims become stronger.

Read the full report at The Verge.

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