The Verge recently published an article called “the Trauma Floor” about the hidden lives of Facebook’s content moderators, the folks who are responsible for reviewing the posts that Facebook users report to determine if they violate the site’s policies.
The article is an expose of the austere working conditions at Cognizant, a third-party company that Facebook contracts with, and the brutal toll that the job takes on the content moderators’ mental health and happiness. I was filled with horror while reading it by the oppressive and traumatic nature of the job until it dawned on me—Cognizant sounds exactly like CapTel.
Cognizant employees are forced to look at traumatic content all day long with no consideration for their mental well-being. Workers gradually become depressed or get roped into the weird conspiracy theories or far-right belief systems presented in the posts they endlessly review.
The article stressed how the time of the moderators is micromanaged, with the company allowing them only two fifteen-minute breaks and a half hour lunch during their shift and closely monitoring every minute of their time away from their cubicle. Cameras are everywhere to ensure constant supervision of employees and they are given monitors regularly during which a supervisor remotely watches their work.
People watch their coworkers go from being pleasant, well-adjusted people to conspiracy theorist crackpots and racist bigots who wander the halls and mutter to each other about the earth being flat and using racial slurs, their minds slowly warped over time by the sheer deluge of vile content that flashes across their screen every day of their career with Cognizant.
CapTel’s content is not nearly so consistently putrid, of course, but every captionist has memories of terrible calls that they carry with them. Obviously, I can’t list examples here but I remember calls that honestly shocked me when I heard them.
Our job is also very grinding in nature and even when not explicitly terrible the calls we caption have the tendency to make many of us focus on our own mortality. For someone who struggles with depression, even as relatively mild as my case is, this can easily lead to a preoccupation with death. I’ve found myself in some incredibly dark holes during my time at CapTel. Surrounded by three drab, undecorated cubicle walls and with nothing to distract me but my thoughts, the call content has often led me into a spiraling tailspin of seasonal depression.
The job that we do is one that pays poorly despite how taxing it can be. We caption calls that deal with death, poverty, heartache, and racism. We deserve a raise for the emotional labor that we do and for a myriad of other reasons.
We deserve to be paid more.
We staff a trauma floor.
This piece was written for volume 6 of the CapTel Disconnect. To read the full issue and past editions click here.