Facebook lawsuit fails to kick off

facebook logo phone man's hand app

Facebook logo on a Smartphone.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

The planned hearing of a case filed by a former Facebook content moderator against the American social media giant's parent company, Meta, over alleged exploitation and poor working conditions failed to take off at the High Court in Nairobi.

The Employment and Labour Relations judge was set to hear submissions from the parties in the lawsuit but Meta’s lawyer, Fred Ojiambo, said he was engaged in another case.

Mr Ojiambo said he was involved in a tribunal appointed by former President Uhuru Kenyatta to investigate the conduct of suspended Judge Juma Chitembwe over alleged misconduct.

The lawyer asked for adjournment of the hearing. Judge Dr Jacob Gakeri allowed the request and fixed the hearing for October 25.

The court was scheduled to hear arguments by Meta Platforms Inc. (FB.O), the owner of Facebook, that it cannot be tried in Kenya.

Meta argues that it ought not to have been sued by the 12 petitioners, since they had been contracted by a third party, which had been outsourced for content moderation services on Facebook.

The international social media firm wants the judge to dismiss the lawsuit on grounds that the court does not have the powers to hear and determine the issues raised by the petitioners led by Daniel Motaung’.

Through lawyer Ojiambo, Meta states that the suit is incompetent, bad in law and unsustainable as per the provisions of the constitution and does not apply to the international firm in the circumstances of the case before court.

Mr Ojiambo argues that Meta Platforms Inc. and Meta Platforms Ireland limited, which are listed as respondents in the suit, are foreign corporations and neither resident nor trading in Kenya.

Hence, he says the Labour court in Nairobi has no jurisdiction over them.

“The petition against the Meta Platforms Inc. and Meta Platforms Ireland limited should be struck out and wholly dismissed as this court lacks jurisdiction to entertain the petition against the two jointly and severally,” reads the court papers in part.

Mr Motaung’ did not oppose the adjournment of the hearing. He filed the lawsuit in May this year seeking financial compensation on behalf of current and former contracted content moderators of Facebook. He claimed that their rights were been violated.

He sued the firm over alleged failure to cater for the mental wellbeing of the employees and poor working conditions.

He claimed that he was sacked after questioning the working conditions of the employees based in the Nairobi office.

The firm was sued alongside its local outsourcing agent Samasource Kenya EPZ Limited (Sama), a company registered in the United States.

Mr Motaung, a South Africa national, said the American social media giant firm acted negligently by failing to provide the moderators with adequate psychosocial support after exposing them to graphic contents.

“Sama and Meta acted negligently by failing to provide adequate precautions for the safety, health and wellbeing of the Facebook Content Moderators and exposing them to risk, danger and injury of which they were aware,” he said in the court papers.

Meta also owns WhatsApp, Instagram and Messenger.

Demands

The sacked worker made a raft of 16 demands in the lawsuit, including damages of alleged violation of Constitutional rights and an order stopping Meta and Sama from interfering with content moderators’ rights to freedom of expression and right to join a workers’ trade union.

He also sought for orders directing Meta and Sama to “cater for the cost of lifelong treatment for current and former content moderators engaged through Sama for any mental health problems that they may have developed as a result of being content moderators”.

“Content moderation at Facebook has been found to pose a risk to workers’ mental health. Because of their repeated exposure to gruesome content such as beheadings, torture and rape, a significant number of Facebook moderators contract post-traumatic stress disorder (PSTD),” said the petitioner.

He explained: “The mental condition may lead involve among other problems insomnia, flashbacks, panic attacks, difficulty concentrating and difficulty forming human relationships. A serious patient of PTSD may struggle to continue in work.”

He also accused the company of deceptive recruitment process and misleading advertisements for the vacancy of a content moderator.

“Between 2019 to date, Sama has issued various notices calling for applications for content moderators. It used the terms Call Centre Agents, Agent and Content Moderator to mean Facebook Content Moderator. The varying descriptions are deceptive and designed to trick unsuspecting applicants into unknowingly becoming Facebook content moderators,” he claimed.

He said Sama had engaged approximately 240 Facebook Content Moderators in its Nairobi office. They are recruited from around the region in Kenya, South Africa, Ethiopia, Somalia, Uganda and elsewhere,” the court papers indicated.

The former worker claimed that Meta and Sama had failed to take adequate steps to guarantee the mental health and wellbeing of the moderators and to invest in programmes and interventions to prevent, mitigate and treat the harm and effects of their work.

He complained that the moderators lacked hardship payments and they were not employed directly by Meta. They were employed by the outsourcing companies such as Sama.

In the suit, he listed ten organisations and State offices as interested parties.

They include the Kenya National Human Rights Commission (KNHRC), Central Organisation of Trade Unions (Cotu), the Attorney General, Ministry of Labour, Social Security and Services, Export Processing Zone Authority, and the Ministry of Health.

Others are Office of the Data Protection Commissioner, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Kenya Revenue Authority and Katiba Institute.

Welcome!

You're all set to enjoy unlimited Prime content.