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Meta found liable as court blocks firing of moderators

A Kenyan court has ruled that Meta is a major employer of content moderators, suing the social media giant and its content moderation partner in Africa, Sama, for the wrongful dismissal. In a lawsuit filed in March, the 184 moderators also claimed that Majorel, Meta’s new content moderation partner on the continent, had blacklisted them at Meta’s instructions.

Judge Byram Ongaya of Kenya’s Employment and Industrial Relations Tribunal on Friday played down the social media giant’s plans to recuse itself from the case, saying moderators are in charge of Meta’s work, use its technology to do their work, and comply with Its performance and accuracy metrics. The court said Sama was “merely an agent … or a manager”. Sama disputed this, saying “Meta is a customer of Sama and Sama is not legally authorized to act on Meta’s behalf.”

Meta told TechCrunch that it disagreed with the ruling and would appeal.

The latest development is a blow to Meta, which has tried to distance itself from the petition, saying it is not the moderator’s employer.

“Evidence suggests that the obligation to provide digital work for content review falls on Respondents 1 and 2 who provide applicants with a digital or virtual workspace. Respondents 1 and 2 Control was exercised by imposing operational requirements and performance standards. The first and second defendants subsequently returned their remuneration through their attorney [Sama],” the court said.

“The third defendant [Sama] is acting as agent for the content moderation work of the first and second respondents [Meta Platforms Inc and Meta Platforms Ireland Limited], and there is nothing in the arrangement to Relieve Respondents 1 and 2 from liability as primary and primary employers of content moderators.”

In addition, the court directed that the moderator’s contract be extended and Meta and Sama be barred from the case Fire them during adjudication. The court issued directions stating that there were no suitable reasons for the layoffs and “found the content review work to be feasible. The applicant will continue to work on current or better terms during this period.”

From Moderators hired across the continent, including Ethiopia, Uganda, Somalia, and South Africa, screen posts on Meta’s platform through social media to remove content that incites and perpetuates hatred, misinformation, and violence.

The moderators allege that Sama illegally fired them for failing to provide them with layoff notices as required by Kenyan law. The lawsuit also alleges that, among other issues, moderators did not receive 30-day termination notices and that their termination fees were tied to the confidentiality documents they signed.

Sama has told TechCrunch in the past that it complies with Kenyan law and communicated its decision to stop content moderation at town hall via email and notification letter.

Sama, whose clients include OpenAI, ditched Meta’s contract and content review services and issued layoff notices to 260 moderators to focus on labeling work (computer vision data annotation).

Meta and Sama face two more lawsuits in Kenya; South African Daniel Motaung accused of labor and human trafficking, unfair industrial relations, union busting and failure to provide ‘adequate’ mental health and psychosocial support to sue the company. Motaung claims he was fired for organizing the 2019 strike and trying to form a union of Sama employees.

The Ethiopians filed a separate lawsuit last December accusing the social media giant of failing to take adequate security measures on Facebook, which in turn fueled the clashes that resulted in the deaths , including the father of a petitioner, and 500,000 Ethiopians during the Tigray War.

Updated June 5 at 6:30AM ET to include Meta’s response



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