Two former TikTok moderators are suing the social video app and its parent firm, claiming that not enough was done to shield them from mental damage caused by witnessing the explicit content they were employed to control.
Ashley Velez and Reece Young, who both undertook moderation work for TikTok through third-party organizations, claim in a federal complaint filed Thursday and reported earlier by NPR that they endured 12-hour workdays analyzing “disgusting and obscene content” that left them emotionally traumatized.
According to the lawsuit, some of the worst films included animal brutality, child abuse, violent erotica, and even murders.
Millions of videos are submitted every day to the Chinese-owned app, which has over a billion monthly active users. About 10,000 moderators like Velez and Young police its content to keep it free of the kind of imagery the lawsuit describes.
The lawsuit claims that TikTok and its owner, ByteDance, violated California labor law by failing to offer proper mental health care to assist moderators to deal with the anxiety, despair, and post-traumatic stress disorder that such images may induce.
Both plaintiffs were contractors for independent companies, but the complaint claims that TikTok and ByteDance exerted control over their day-to-day work by directly connecting their income to how successfully they filtered material and pressuring them to meet strict quotas. According to the lawsuit, they were also had to sign nondisclosure agreements, which prohibited them from sharing what they observed with anybody.
TikTok officials did not immediately answer CNET’s request for comment. The firm “strives to establish a compassionate working environment for our workers and contractors,” they told NPR.
Facebook secured a $52 million settlement with a group of its moderators in 2020. In 2018, the group filed a lawsuit alleging that the moderators had had comparable post-traumatic stress as a result of the information they had to watch.
The complaint against TikTok demands damages and legal expenses, as well as the creation of a fund to pay for a medical monitoring program to handle continuing screening, diagnosis, and treatment for the two plaintiffs and anyone who may join the claim later.