Report Makes Moderating Facebook in Phoenix Sound Like the Worst Job Ever

At the Cognizant office in Phoenix, where the job involves watching suicides and murders so Facebook users don’t have to see them, employees get high and have sex in the lactation room to help them get through the day.

Others become conspiracy theorists after watching too many videos promoting the idea that the Earth is flat or that the Holocaust didn’t happen.

Staffers make about $28,000 a year and work with little room for error; a handful of mistakes in one week can get someone fired.

That’s all according to a must-read investigation at The Verge, which explores the labor of content moderation, wherein workers are responsible for deleting objectionable posts on sites like Facebook and Twitter.

Cognizant, which has a Phoenix office at 2512 West Dunlap Avenue, contracts with Facebook to provide content moderation services. About 300 employees are working in the two-story office at any given time, according to The Verge.

Reporter Casey Newton interviewed a dozen current and former employees of Cognizant's office in Phoenix, most of whom only gave first names or pseudonyms because they had signed nondisclosure agreements with the company.

One employee described reviewing up to 400 posts a day to decide whether they violated Facebook or Instagram's's community standards.

"Here is a racist joke. Here is a man having sex with a farm animal. Here is a graphic video of murder recorded by a drug cartel," Newton writes of the employee's workflow.

The standards that Cognizant employees are expected to uphold are confusing and sometimes shifting. Newton gives the example of an employee leaving a post stating, "Autistic people should be sterilized," as Facebook does not define autism as a "protected characteristic" like race or gender. "Men should be sterilized" would have qualified as prohibited content, Newton explains.

Employees who make too many mistakes — and the margin of error is slim, according to the article — are at risk of getting fired. One staffer told Newton that fired employees sometimes threaten to come back to the office and commit acts of violence, leading him to start bringing a gun to work despite company policy prohibiting firearms. 

Newton describes a surreal workplace, wherein many employees suffer from secondary traumatic stress in an office with neon walls, yoga, and Random Acts of Kindness Week. Employees told Newton that their colleagues would smoke pot, crack racist jokes, and have sex with one another in the office, to cope with trauma related to the job. 

Employees get two 15-minute breaks, as well as one 30-minute meal break. On top of that, they get nine minutes of "wellness time," which they're supposed to use if they feel too traumatized by the content they're moderating. But since toilets are sparse, and lines for the bathrooms are long, some staffers said they used the restroom during their wellness time.

Not everyone at Cognizant is unhappy. Some employees said they felt safe and supported and hoped the job would lead to better opportunities. One employee who likes his job told Newton, “Most of the stuff we see is mild, very mild. It’s people going on rants. It’s people reporting photos or videos simply because they don’t want to see it — not because there’s any issue with the content. That’s really the majority of the stuff that we see.”

Cognizant, which provides other services besides content moderation, employs about 3,000 people in Arizona. The company recently opened another office in Mesa.

Read the full investigation here
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Steven Hsieh was a staff writer for Phoenix New Times from August 2018 to April 2020.
Contact: Steven Hsieh