Settlement talks between Meta Platforms and former Facebook content moderators in Kenya have broken down amid accusations.

The lawyer representing 184 former Facebook content moderators based in Kenya who sued Facebook parent Meta, over working conditions and pay, told the judge Monday that Meta has not been sincere in trying to reach an out-of-court settlement as agreed in the last court session, the Associated Press reported.

It comes after a Kenya labour court ruled in February this year that Meta could be sued locally by a former content moderator who had claimed he was insufficiently protected from psychological harm due to the graphic and violent images he had viewed on the job.

Kenya lawsuit

Meta has similar legal claims elsewhere.

In 2020 Facebook agreed to pay a $52 million (£43m) settlement between it and more than 10,000 content moderators who had accused the company of failing to provide adequate mental health support for their jobs.

Now settlement talks in Kenya with former content moderators outside the United States has broken down.

Lawyer Mercy Mutemi was quoted by the Associated Press as saying that the talks had collapsed and the former moderators want to proceed with a contempt of court case against Meta.

“The petitioners gave it their best effort. They attended every mediation,” Mutemi reportedly said. “The respondents asked for information which we gave them.”

They kept saying they would get back to us by a certain date but only got back to us at the end of last week with a very small amount that cannot even take care of the petitioners’ mental health,” she told the court.

She described Meta as “not genuine.”

The moderators were employed via Sama, a San Francisco subcontractor that describes itself as an ethical AI company, to work in its hub in the capital, Nairobi.

Their job entailed screening user content in 12 African languages and removing any uploads deemed to breach Facebook’s community standards and terms of service.

Some of the petitioners have told The Associated Press that their job required them to watch horrific content for eight hours a day that overwhelmed many of them while being paid 60,000 Kenyan shillings, or $414 a month. They accused Sama of doing little to ensure post-traumatic professional counselling was offered.

The plaintiffs are seeking $1.6 billion in compensation.

Missed opportunity

According to the Associated Press, Meta and Sama lawyers told the court they thought the mediation was making good progress, with long hours involved, until the moderators’ lawyer wrote to them in protest.

Justice Nduma Nderi said the failed talks were a “missed opportunity” to find a balance between the parties involved as opposed to the court issuing an order.

The parties will now appear at a hearing on 31 October on the moderators’ application to find Meta and Sama in contempt of court.

The lawsuit is the first known court challenge of its kind against Facebook outside the United States.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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