Facebook, TikTok and ChatGPT content moderators in Kenya finally unionise

Facebook, TikTok and ChatGPT content moderators in Kenya finally unionise

African Content Moderators representing Facebook, TikTok, YouTube and ChatGPT during a meeting on May 1, 2023, in which they resolved to unionise. | PHOTO: FILE/HANDOUT

Over 150 content moderators working for social media giants Facebook, TikTok, and Open AI’s ChatGPT on Monday resolved to register a workers union dubbed the Content Moderators Union.

This is in the backdrop of an ongoing legal battle between workers of Facebook parent company Meta’s moderation partner Sama over poor working conditions in the Nairobi moderation hub.

The Labour Day meeting on Monday saw the group resolve to create a one-of-a-kind union in Africa and declare that it will welcome content moderators from any major tech firm.

The move builds on earlier efforts by Facebook moderators that were crushed by company bosses. In 2019, a Sama moderator called Daniel Motuang started a group that tried to negotiate over unfair conditions like pay and mental health care.

The workers say Facebook and Sama ignored their demands, instead destroying the union and forcing Motuang to leave Kenya.

But after a 2022 Time Magazine exposé that lifted the lid on the exploitation of African Facebook moderators in Nairobi, a wave of legal action and organising took off and has culminated in two judgments by Kenyan courts against Meta.

Motaung filed the first case early last year, accusing Meta and Sama of exploitation, union-busting and wage theft. A second case filed late last year alleges that Facebook’s moderation failures have caused death and mayhem in the Ethiopian war and across the African continent.

Facebook and its outsourcers then retaliated, announcing in January a mass sacking of all 260 moderators at Facebook’s Nairobi hub.

The third case filed in March this year sued Meta and its outsourcers for sacking the entire workforce and blacklisting the laid-off workers.

The court gave an order stopping Meta, which also owns Instagram and WhatsApp, from switching suppliers to Majorel because the case argues that the switch is being carried out in a discriminatory way.

Meta tried to challenge the order but the court shut it down and ruled that the injunction is extended until the legality of the redundancy is determined.

Meta in January tried to have the case struck down, arguing that the local employment and labour relations court had no jurisdiction over it because it is neither based in nor trades in Kenya.

But the court in February said Meta can be sued in Kenya and declined to strike out the tech giant from the case.

“I never thought, when I started the Alliance in 2019, we would be here today – with moderators from every major social media giant forming the first African moderators union. There have never been more of us. Our cause is right, our way is just, and we shall prevail. I couldn’t be prouder of today’s decision to register the Content Moderators Union,” Motaung said on Monday.

Kauna Malgwi, a Facebook moderator working at Sama, said the union gives them hope and resilience to take on tech giants and fight for their rights.

“Sama and Facebook thought they could get rid of us because we spoke up, but they only made us resolve to fight. Withholding our pay and threatening people’s immigration status doesn’t just show contempt for Kenyan justice, it disrespects us. But we won’t take it lying down. We will not rest until justice is done,” Malgwi said.


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