Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in an internal memo earlier this week that the company will give employees working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic a $1,000 cash bonus. But, as the Intercept first reported, contractors will not receive the bonus.
When TechCrunch asked Facebook why contractors won’t get the bonus, a company spokesperson sent us a statement similar to the one it gave the Intercept, saying that “The $1,000 is for full-time employees who are working from home. For contract workers, we are sending them home and paying them in full even if they are unable to work, which is much more meaningful than a one off payment.”
The BBC reported earlier today that Zuckerberg said in a call with reporters that contract workers will also get their full salaries even if they are unable to complete all their usual tasks. But Joe Rivano Barros of the Worker Agency, which coordinates campaigns for advocacy groups like Gig Workers Rise and RAICES Texas, told the publication, “it’s great that they are letting them work from home, but it seems like the bare minimum Facebook could do.”
Facebook has an estimated 15,000 content moderators, working through third-party contractors. In the call covered by the BBC, Zuckerberg said that Facebook full-time employees will take over decisions about sensitive topics, including self-harm and suicide, in part to reduce the mental health impact of viewing such content on contractors, and added he was “personally quite worried that the isolation from people being at home could potentially lead to more depression or mental health issues, and I want to make sure that we are ahead of that supporting our community.”
A portion of Facebook’s content moderation is also performed by algorithms, though the shortcomings of its filters was highlighted this week when a bug blocked sharing of coronavirus-related content on the platform, even from legitimate new sources (posts were later restored). Human workers are still essential to Facebook’s content moderation system.
The impact of screening content, including violent or disturbing material, on human moderators was brought to attention last year after a major report from The Verge in February 2019 about the mental health toll experienced by many contractors. Afterward, Zuckerberg said the company would commit to paying all Facebook contractors in the U.S. “a wage that’s more reflective of the local costs of living. And for those who review content on our site to make sure it follows our community standards, we’re going even further. We’re going to provide them a higher base wage, additional benefits, and more supportive programs given the nature of their jobs.”
As part of its COVID-19 response, Facebook also said that it will pay contingent workers who cannot work as offices close because people have been ordered to work from home, following similar measures from Microsoft and other companies.
But as TechCrunch’s Jonathan Shieber and Alex Wilhelm noted, many tech companies have created a “dual-class worker system in recent years, keeping their more technical and product-oriented staff as full-time workers for the main company, while exporting elements of labor to third-party companies… Moving to comp more, or all workers, is not only good PR, though it is also that, it’s simply good ethics.”