Two former TikTok content reviewers, Ashley Velez and Reece Young have sued the video-focused social networking company, accusing it of failing to adequately give them support as they engage in the onerous task of removing objectionable videos on the app.
The lawsuit, which was first reported by American Media News Company, NPR was filed on Thursday, the 24th of February 2022 in a Federal court.
According to the petitioners, Ashley Velez and Reece Young, they were employed by TikTok on contract with the help of third party companies, Telus International and Atrium to moderate TikTok contents. But the duo is seeking class-action status, while joining other TikTok content moderators, inferring that they were negatively affected by the company’s practices.
In the litigation, TikTok and its parent company, ByteDance were accused of violating California labour laws by failing to provide Velez and Young with adequate mental health support despite the mental risks of the “abnormally dangerous activities” they were made to engage with on a daily basis. The suit also allege that the companies compel moderators to review high volumes of extreme content to hit quotas, amplifying the harm by forcing them to sign NDAs so they were legally unable to discuss what they saw.
The lawsuit states that:
“Defendants have failed to provide a safe workplace for the thousands of contractors who are the gatekeepers between the unfiltered, disgusting and offensive content uploaded to the App and the hundreds of millions of people who use the App every day.”
The duo also accused TikTok and ByteDance of indifference to their condition at work and posited that in spite of knowing the psychological risks of prolonged exposure to such traumatic content, the companies made no effort to provide “appropriate ameliorative measures” to help workers cope with the extreme content after the fact.
In the suit, the petitioners described how they both had to spend twelve hour workdays reviewing extreme, disturbing content including “child sexual abuse, rape, torture, bestiality, beheadings, suicide, and murder.”
The lawsuit also describes how Velez and Young in the course of their moderation of contents on the app, were repeatedly exposed to hate speech and conspiracy theories and in the process having a negative impact on their mental well being.
This is not the first time TikTok would be facing such litigation as another TikTok content moderator, Candie Frazier, had December 2021 through a suit said that she was made to screen videos showing violence, school shootings, fatal falls and even cannibalism. Part of the suit reads; “Plaintiff has trouble sleeping and when she does sleep, she has horrific nightmares”.