Facebook’s Spanish-Language Moderators Are Calling Their Work A “Nightmare”

Contractors who moderate Spanish-language content on Facebook said they’ve been forced to come to the office during COVID surges.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and employees

For years, Facebook moderators employed by third-party contractors have sought to expose poor working conditions, and their dissent grew louder during the pandemic as many were forced to return to the office with little to no safety net. But Spanish-language moderators say they face even worse treatment than their English-focused colleagues.

“Being in the office … has been nothing short of a nightmare.”

At the Richardson, Texas, office of Genpact, a Meta subcontractor, Spanish-language moderators told BuzzFeed News they’ve been required to report to the office since April 2021, despite the emergence of both Delta and Omicron variants that caused COVID infections to spike across the US. Throughout this time, they said, moderators reviewing English-language content have been allowed to cycle through the office in three-month rotations.

“Being in the office … has been nothing short of a nightmare,” one moderator said.

BuzzFeed News spoke to three members of Genpact’s so-called Mexican market team who described a pattern of inequitable treatment of Spanish-language moderators. All of these individuals spoke on the condition of anonymity as Genpact requires them to sign nondisclosure agreements and they feared for their jobs. They said that in addition to reporting to the office for the last nine months while their English-language counterparts could work from home, Spanish-language moderators are held to unrealistic performance standards and are not compensated for working in two languages, which they say is more time-consuming. In addition, they face the pressures of managing a Facebook market that has long been criticized as under-moderated amid the threat of active COVID cases.

Genpact spokesperson Danielle D’Angelo declined to comment on all of the specific claims made by Spanish-language moderators, including the claim that its Mexican market team was not allowed to work from home while other teams were rotated out.

“We would like to stress that employee safety is our top priority and that has and will remain so throughout the COVID-19 pandemic,” D’Angelo said. “Any return to office decisions that are made in alignment with client needs are done with best safety and health practices in place and in accordance with local regulations. In all of our workplace locations, including our Richardson, TX office, we follow best-in-class safety standards, which includes frequent antigen testing.”

On Thursday, managers at Genpact’s Richardson site reportedly told company agents that it has scrapped plans to reopen at 50% capacity on Jan. 31 due to the Omicron variant. Spanish-language moderators said this change does not affect them, and they will continue reporting to the office. Genpact declined to comment on when it intends to reopen, and at what capacity.

In late June, Genpact leadership sent an email to one of the English-language moderation groups allowed to rotate out of the office, thanking them for their "continued dedication and responsiveness." The email said they would return to working from home on July 26.

Spanish-language moderators told BuzzFeed News they received no such email. Days after English-language moderators were told they could go back home, “[managers] told us we were a specialized queue, and that our job could not be done outside of the office,” one moderator said, noting that the Mexican market often involves moderating a deluge of particularly graphic content. Facebook declined to comment on the complaints of its Spanish-language moderators, referring BuzzFeed News to Genpact — a strategy it has taken time and again when addressing the concerns of people who make their living moderating Facebook content.

Since returning to the Richardson office, employees have grown increasingly fearful for their safety. Moderators told BuzzFeed News that 30 COVID cases were reported to staff by management in December, and that no updates have been communicated since then. Meanwhile, workers say their colleagues continue to test positive for COVID, citing two cases on one floor last week. Genpact declined to comment on the number of COVID cases in its office or how frequently it reports these cases to staff.

On Dec. 22, a dozen Spanish-language moderators left the office en masse after learning through the grapevine that a sick colleague may have exposed them to the virus. Since workers claim that Genpact does not currently offer its moderators paid sick leave, they used PTO to self-isolate. Genpact declined to comment on whether its moderators are provided paid sick leave.

Despite being named for the Mexican market, this team reviews Facebook and Instagram content posted in Spanish by users across most of Latin America as well, moderators said. As of 2018, there were 84 million Facebook users in Mexico, and tens of millions more using WhatsApp. In Latino and Spanish-speaking communities, Facebook has been a powerful vector of misinformation, shaping the public’s perception of topics such as COVID, election politics, and Black Lives Matter. But researchers studying misinformation told the Guardian that compared to English-language posts, harmful content posted in Spanish is removed less frequently.

“Genpact made everyone who has a remotely Hispanic-sounding name take a Spanish test.”

Members told BuzzFeed News that Genpact began building this team in early 2020, initially sourcing volunteers from other existing departments.

“Genpact made everyone who has a remotely Hispanic-sounding name take a Spanish test, and if they failed they were asked to take it again,” one moderator told BuzzFeed News on the condition of anonymity, fearing they could face retaliation for speaking publicly about internal company matters.

Employees claim that moderators not fluent in Spanish were forced into the role as a result and that many failed to meet performance expectations and were subsequently fired. Currently, the Mexican market team consists of roughly 50 people.

But even workers fluent in Spanish feel beaten down by what they characterized as unreasonable standards. For example, moderators are expected to maintain an 85% accuracy rate while sticking to a 66-second “handle time,” or time frame for making decisions on pieces of content. While these thresholds might be sensible for one language, navigating dual languages can take more time. Moderators say they have to translate Facebook guidelines, which are only disseminated in English, into Spanish before applying them. A large number of posts by users in Mexico and across Latin America also contain English, they added, forcing them to switch between languages regularly. Genpact declined to comment on how Spanish-language moderators are evaluated and paid. Facebook did not respond to a query about the language in which its guidelines are provided.

The pandemic has caused Facebook moderators at several outsourcing firms to organize around issues such as paid sick leave, hazard pay, and the class system dividing contract workers from salaried tech employees. Last week, Accenture suddenly allowed its Facebook moderators to work from home after originally ordering them back to the office, following a BuzzFeed News inquiry.

Though Facebook has never publicly revealed how many users it has throughout Latin America, its platform and apps function as vital utilities for citizens of many of these countries. That pressure is felt by Genpact’s Spanish-language moderators, who said that despite the outsize importance of their jobs, they’re the smallest team in the office.

Facebook spokesperson Kadia Koroma said the company uses a “combination of technology and people to keep content that breaks our rules off of our platform, and while AI has made progress in this space, people are a key part of our safety efforts.” The company said that Spanish is one of the most common languages used on Facebook and that Spanish-language reviews are conducted 24 hours per day at several sites across the world.

Moderators who returned to the office in April assumed it was due to Mexico’s midterm elections, which were held in June. “We figured, OK, let the election pass,” one moderator said. Throughout 2021, English-language moderators had been rotating in and out. The Mexican market team figured it would be the same for them.

“Then a week before we were supposed to be rotated out, we got an email saying, ‘Thank you for the hard work, but unfortunately the Mexican market is going to stay in place,’” they added. Facebook declined to comment on how it interacts with subcontractors managing specific moderation markets.

“We know these jobs can be difficult, which is why we work closely with our partners to constantly evaluate how to best support these teams,” Koroma said.