Facebook’s largest content moderation provider in Africa announced Tuesday it would be “discontinuing” its work for the social media giant, nearly a year after a TIME investigation found low pay, trauma and alleged union-busting at its Nairobi office.
The company, Sama, is currently the co-defendant, along with Meta, in a Kenyan lawsuit brought by former content moderator Daniel Motaung, who alleges both companies are guilty of multiple violations of the Kenyan constitution.
Sama blamed the decision on the “current economic climate,” and said it would entail letting go of approximately 3% of its staff, mostly from Nairobi.
A Meta spokesperson confirmed the end of the contract in a statement. “We respect Sama’s decision to exit the content review services it provides to social media platforms. We’ll work with our partners during this transition to ensure there’s no impact on our ability to review content.”
Sama’s contract to review harmful content for Meta, Facebook’s parent company, was worth $3.9 million in 2022, according to internal Sama documents reviewed by TIME. Sama and Meta declined to comment on the figure.
Cori Crider, the co-director of Foxglove, a legal NGO that is supporting Motaung’s lawsuit against Meta and Sama, criticized both companies in a statement. “Meta’s decision to ax the Sama contract just as Facebook moderators were organizing for better conditions shows what cowards they are. The moment it looks like Meta is in legal hot water for its awful working conditions, the company moves to hide behind a different firm,” Crider said. “But the problem is still with Meta. Meta designed the system that exploits moderators and gives them PTSD – and Meta is the one treating them as disposable.”
Crider said that Majorel, a Luxembourg-based outsourcing firm, would be taking over Sama’s contract with Meta, citing workers in touch with Foxglove. “Workers report to Foxglove that conditions at Majorel, a new outsourcer Meta is hiding behind, are even worse. There’s no proper mental health support and base pay looks to be about half of even Sama’s poor wages,” she said. A Meta spokesperson did not respond to a request to comment on whether Majorel would be Sama’s replacement. Majorel did not respond to a request for comment.
“We know that this will be a difficult day for everyone at Sama, and we are offering several support programs for those impacted,” Sama said in a statement to TIME. “While we understand that this is a difficult day, we believe it is the right long-term decision for our business.”
“Our strategic vision is to be the number one provider of computer vision data annotation. In our quest to realize that vision, we branched out into other adjacent technologies. However, the current economic climate requires more efficient and streamlined business operations. Therefore, we have chosen to refocus our business and concentrate solely on our computer vision annotation technology platform and solutions. This means we will discontinue our work that isn’t closely aligned with that vision, including Natural Language Processing and our Content Moderation business, effective March 2023.”
All impacted employees would receive severance packages and “well-being support” for 12 months after their last day of employment, Sama’s statement said.
The remit of Sama’s Nairobi content moderation teams included Ethiopia, where Facebook has been accused of not doing enough to prevent the spread of incitement to violence amid a violent civil conflict. “We’ve seen the consequences of cut-rate moderation in the Ethiopian war – and just this week in the attack on Brazil’s democracy,” Crider said in her statement. “These crises were fuelled by social media – and both unfolded in places where Meta and other social firms run moderation on the cheap. We won’t solve the online safety debate until this labor problem is sorted.”
On February 6, a judge is scheduled to decide whether a Nairobi court has the jurisdiction to continue hearing Motaung’s case against Meta. The social media giant argues that the case should not proceed because it does not trade in Kenya.