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Cognizant Getting $200M From Facebook To Moderate Violent Content Amid Allegations Of ‘Filthy’ Work Conditions: Report

Cognizant, which came under fire earlier this year for the difficult working conditions faced by contractors it hires to scrub traumatizing content from Facebook, is reportedly getting $100 million per year for the job.

Cognizant received a $200 million, two-year contract from Facebook to moderate violent, obscene and hateful content from the social media platform, according to a report on The Verge.

Details on the size of Cognizant’s contract with Facebook, which had not been previously reported, come as the solution provider faces renewed scrutiny for its treatment of workers hired to fulfill that contract. The figure was attributed by The Verge to a former employee familiar with the matter. Cognizant has previously told CRN that it does not break out revenue from its content moderation business.

The report, published Wednesday, features detailed accounts of workers who suffer long-term mental harm as a result of being bombarded with sickening images and videos for hours during a shift.

The story was a follow-up to a previous report on The Verge published earlier this year that followed employees at a Cognizant facility in Arizona who made little more than minimum wage to block, delete, and moderate the worst of what Facebook users post.

Cognizant in Februrary told CRN it had taken action and was developing “the next generation of wellness practices” after that report.

This most recent story focused on a Cognizant facility in Tampa, Fla., where workers said they suffered many of the same ills as their colleagues out west. The report detailed the story of Keith Utley, a former Lt. Commander in the U.S. Coast Guard, the equivalent of a major in the U.S. Army.

Utley, The Verge reported, was under “unworldly” stress, constantly worried about losing his job, with which he supported his wife and two daughters. He collapsed one night at work and later died, the victim of an apparent heart attack at the age of 42.

The Verge, which spoke to some employees on the record, and some anonymously, also described “filthy” working conditions at the office, rife with rowdy, unprofessional employees, fist fights and theft of personal property. Two sexual harassment claims have been filed at the facility since April, according to the report.

Teaneck, N.J.-based Cognizant, characterized the issues raised by the report as “no different” than “workplace and personnel issues” in other facilities.

“Cognizant strives to create a safe and empowering workplace for its more than 40,000 employees in the US and their colleagues around the world,” the company said in a statement provided to CRN. “Like any large employer, Cognizant routinely and professionally responds to and addresses general workplace and personnel issues in its facilities. Our Tampa facility is no different. Cognizant works hard to ensure a safe, clean, and supportive work environment for all of our associates.”

CRN has reached out to Facebook for comment.

The report said that individual contractors working on the Facebook account in North America make as little as $28,800 a year. “They receive two 15-minute breaks and a 30-minute lunch each day, along with nine minutes per day of ‘wellness’ time that they can use when they feel overwhelmed by the emotional toll of the job,” according to the report. “After regular exposure to graphic violence and child exploitation, many workers are subsequently diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and related conditions.”

At that pay level, content moderators are making $20,000 a year less than the median income in Tampa of $48,245, according to 2017 U.S. Census records. Employees reported vomiting into trash cans at their desk because they do not have sick time, bedbugs at work, pubic hairs on shared desktops, an employee mocked by management for a ruptured colostomy bag, and “red bag days,” when Cognizant reportedly lays off large swaths of employees -- sometimes seemingly at random -- by handing them red bags to collect their belongings.

“The minimum wage in Florida is $8.46, and at $15 an hour, the job pays better than most call center work in the area,” The Verge article stated. “For many content moderators — Cognizant refers to them by the enigmatic title of ‘process executive’ — it was their first real job.”

Facebook has vowed to make changes, raising the salary of moderators by three dollars an hour, administering better psychological screening to determine fitness, resiliency training, among other changes. The company has also hired Chris Harrison, a psychologist, to lead a resiliency team to institute changes, The Verge reported.

“Is there such thing as too much? The conventional answer to that would be, of course, there can be too much of anything. Scientifically, do we know how much is too much? Do we know what those thresholds are? The answer is no, we don’t. Do we need to know? Yeah, for sure,” Harrison told The Verge. “If there’s something that were to keep me up at night, just pondering and thinking, it’s that question,” Harrison continued. “How much is too much?”

Cognizant -- No. 6 on the 2019 Solution Provider 500 list -- had 281,600 employees at the end of 2018, with approximately 50,000 in North America, according to a regulatory filing.

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