Social media filter Protecting content from abuse or other prohibited material is one of the most difficult tasks in technology, but one of the most undervalued. In Germany, the content moderators of TikTok and Meta have banded together to demand more recognition for workers employed to keep some of the worst content off the social platforms in a coordinated push by tech workers at companies.
The coalition met in Berlin last week and demanded higher pay, more psychological support and the ability to organize and organize from the two platforms. Workers say low pay and respect unfairly moderate low-skilled workers in the eyes of German employment laws. One moderator who spoke to Wired said it forced them to endure more than a year of immigration red tape in order to stay in the country.
Franziska Kuhls, who has worked as a content moderator for Tik Tok for four years, said: “We want to see it as not just a simple job, but a very difficult and highly skilled one that requires a lot of cultural and linguistic knowledge.” years. She is one of 11 elected members to represent employees in the employee-elected works council at the company’s Berlin office. “It should be recognized as a real profession where people get the respect that comes with it.”
Last week’s meeting marked the first time that moderators from different companies have met regularly in Germany to exchange experiences and collaborate on common areas of workplace change.
TikTok, Meta, and other platforms rely on moderators like Kuhles to ensure that violent, sexual, and illegal content is removed. Although algorithms help filter some content, more sensitive and delicate tasks fall to human moderators. Much of this work is outsourced to third-party companies around the world, and moderators have often complained of low wages and poor working conditions.
A content moderator across Europe and the Middle East, Germany has relatively progressive labor laws that create elected works councils or Council works, in companies, structures similar to trade unions but legally recognized. Works councils must be consulted by employers on major company decisions and can have their members elected to the company board. TikTok workers in Germany set up a works council in 2022.
Hikmat El-Hamouri, Verdi regional organizer for the Berlin Union in Berlin, which helped facilitate the meeting, called the conference “a culmination of the work of union organizers in the workplaces of social media companies to help these key online safety workers—content moderators—fight for the justice they deserve.” The combination of TikTok and MetaWorks hopes to help bring new accountability to tech companies with workers in Germany.
TikTok, Meta and Meta’s local moderation contractor did not respond to requests for comment.
Moderators from Kenya to India to the US have complained that their work is often tedious, demanding quotas and making decisions on content. Many reported suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and psychological trauma. In recognition of that, many companies offer some kind of psychological counseling to psychologists, but some employees say it is not enough.