“By requiring content moderators to review high volumes of graphic and objectionable content, Defendants require content moderators to engage in abnormally dangerous activities,” the complaint alleges, adding that the company is “failing to implement acknowledged best practices to mitigate risks necessarily caused by such work.”
TikTok did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
This is the second recent lawsuit alleging that TikTok fails to adequately support its content moderators.
“We strive to promote a caring working environment for our employees and contractors,” the TikTok spokesperson said in December. “Our Safety team partners with third party firms on the critical work of helping to protect the TikTok platform and community.”
Frazier dropped her suit last month and is considering her options, according to her lawyer.
Velez and Young were not TikTok employees; instead they worked remotely for staffing firms that supply contractors to work as content moderators for the platform. Young worked as a TikTok moderator for New York-based Atrium Staffing Services for about 11 months starting in 2021, according to the complaint. Velez spent about seven months working as a TikTok moderator for Canada-based Telus International, the same firm that employed Frazier. Atrium and Telus did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Although they worked for two different companies, the complaint states that Velez and Young “performed the same tasks, in the same way, using applications provided by” TikTok and ByteDance, and that the social media giant set quotas, monitored and disciplined the moderators.
The lawsuit — which seeks approval as a class action — alleges that the moderators were exposed to disturbing content, including “a thirteen-year-old child being executed by cartel members” and “bestiality and necrophilia.” They also faced “repeated exposure” to fringe beliefs and conspiracy theories such as claims that the Covid-19 pandemic is a fraud, Holocaust denial and manipulated videos of elected officials, according to the complaint.
The complaint claims that because of the large volume of videos moderators must review, they often had fewer than 25 seconds to review each video and would view multiple videos simultaneously. Moderators are offered two 15-minute breaks and an hour-long lunch for each 12-hour workday, but ByteDance withholds payment to moderators if they are not on the moderation platform for any other time during the day, it alleges.
The lawsuit also accuses the company of failing to implement safeguards for moderators, such as blurring or changing the color of some disturbing videos, and of reducing the “wellness” time offered to moderators from one hour to 30 minutes each week.
“As a result of constant and unmitigated exposure to highly toxic and extremely disturbing images at the workplace, [Young and Velez] have suffered immense stress and psychological harm,” the complaint states. “Plaintiffs have sought counseling on their own time and effort due to the content they were exposed to.”
The suit also alleges that the moderators were forced to sign non-disclosure agreements as part of their jobs, which forced “them to keep inside the horrific things they see while reviewing content.” The claims in Thursday’s lawsuit are consistent with allegations made in Frazier’s earlier lawsuit.
Thursday’s lawsuit seeks to have TikTok and ByteDance fund a medical monitoring program to help diagnose and treat moderators’ mental health conditions, as well as other yet unspecified financial damages.