Meta accused of gagging whistle blower on Kenya moderators

 A Facebook illustration of fake news.

Photo credit: AFP

A group of human rights organisations have condemned Meta, the parent company of Facebook, saying the firm and its top leadership are actively attempting to silence a whistle-blower who revealed the plight of content moderators in Kenya.

In an open letter signed by more than 80 organisations and individuals, the activists want Meta to let Daniel Motaung, a former content moderator for Facebook, to freely speak up about the ordeals he and his colleagues underwent while working with Meta’s outsourcing partner in Kenya, Sama.

“It should be a source of intense shame for Meta, one of the richest companies on earth, that it has chosen to focus its corporate clout and resources on the latter course of action,” the letter reads.

“Meta and Sama publicly claim to champion freedom of expression, and to support global movements fighting for equality and racial justice. It is impossible to square such statements with your actions in Kenya and with your treatment of content moderation workers globally.”

Back in May, Motaung, a South African, sued, on behalf of content moderators in Kenya alleging poor working conditions and low pay for those hired to moderate content posted on Meta’s platforms that include Facebook and Instagram.

The petition, also filed against Meta's local outsourcing company Sama, alleges that workers moderating Facebook posts in Kenya have been subjected to irregular pay, inadequate mental health support, refusal to join trade unions, and violations of their privacy and dignity.

Sama rejected the claims although Meta initially lay the blame on partners.

The letter by civil society organisations and individuals includes signatories such as Ms Frances Haugen, a previous whistle-blower against Meta, Article 19 Eastern Africa, Kenya Human Rights Commission, Mazingira Institute, Defend Defenders, African Defenders among others.

Hauguen, a data engineer, filed a tranche of internal documents from Facebook to the US Securities and Exchange Commission last year, revealing conflicts of interest in the company’s bid to curb misinformation.

In Kenya, the company has in the past been accused of sitting on its hands as entities spread false news around elections.

In 2017, now-defunct UK firm Cambridge Analytica was used to paint political opponents as evil. The firm’s managers in the UK have since been jailed and the company dissolved.

Ahead of Kenya’s next elections in August, Meta said it has tightened its checks including taking down thousands of hate messages posted online on Facebook and Instagram as well as suspending the spread of content from accounts flagged for posting hate or falsehoods.

“Meta uses a combination of artificial intelligence, human review and user reports. (It is) quadrupling the size of its global team focused on safety and security to more than 40,000 people and hiring more content reviewers, including in Swahili,” said the company in a statement.

However, the tech giant has in the past been accused of hiring little teams or moderators who don’t understand local languages, making it difficult to spot hate or misleading content.