Former TikTok moderator sues for ‘mental distress’ over disturbing videos

Two TikTok moderators previously filed a federal lawsuit seeking class action status today against the platform and parent company Bytedance, report NPR. The plaintiffs, Ashley Velez and Reece Young, worked for the social video platform last year as contractors. To fulfill their role of moderators, they witnessed “many acts of extreme violence and violence,” including murder, bestiality, gangrene, and other disturbing images. The lawsuit alleges TikTok was negligent and violated labor laws in California, the state where the platform’s operations are located in the US.

Both plaintiffs said they were tasked with viewing the disturbing footage for hours, often working 12 hours a day. Both pay out-of-pocket for counseling to deal with the psychology of work. The lawsuit alleges TikTok imposed high “productivity standards” on moderators, which forced them to view large amounts of disturbing content without a break. Both employees were also forced to sign nondisclosure agreements as a condition of their employment.

“We’re going to see death and graphic, graphic pornography,” Velez told NPR. I would see underage kids naked every day. “I would see people getting shot in the face, and another video of a kid being beaten made me cry for two hours.”

Moderators at Facebook and other platforms have in the past about the psychological heaviness of their work. The employees allege they had a brief period of time, often just seconds, to determine if the video violated the platform’s policies. Work is usually “Worst job in tech” and workers regularly experience depression, PTSD-like symptoms, and suicidal thoughts. In a 2020 deal, Facebook paid more than to a group of former moderators who said they developed PTSD from this work.

This is not the first lawsuit of its kind against TikTok, which now has 10,000 content moderators worldwide. Last December, another TikTok content moderator also sued the platform for negligence and violation of workplace safety standards. Based on NPRthe lawsuit is after the plaintiff was fired.

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