The moderators of TikTok and Meta form a common front in Germany

Social Media Screening Removing abuse or other prohibited material from content is one of the most difficult tasks in technology, but also one of the most underrated. Content moderators for TikTok and Meta in Germany have joined forces to demand more recognition for workers employed to keep some of the worst content off social platforms, in a rare moment of coordinated rejection by tech workers across companies.

The combined group met in Berlin last week to demand higher salaries, more psychological support and the ability to unionize and organize from the two platforms. Workers say the low pay and prestige wrongly make moderators low-skilled workers in the eyes of German labor laws. A moderator who spoke to WIRED said they were forced to battle immigration bureaucracy for more than a year to stay in the country.

“We don’t want to see moderation recognition as an easy job, but as an extremely difficult, highly skilled job that actually requires a lot of cultural and linguistic expertise,” says Franziska Kuhles, who has worked as a content moderator for TikTok for four years. She is one of 11 elected members elected to represent employees in the company’s Berlin office as part of an employee-elected works council. “It should be recognized as a real career, where people are treated with the respect that comes with it.”

Last week’s meeting was the first time moderators from different companies met officially in Germany to share experiences and work together on unified demands for workplace changes.

TikTok, Meta, and other platforms rely on moderators like Kuhles to ensure violent, sexual, and illegal content is removed. Although algorithms can help filter some content, more sensitive and nuanced tasks fall to human moderators. Much of this work is outsourced to third-party companies around the world, and moderators have often complained about low wages and poor working conditions.

Germany, which is a hub for content moderation across Europe and the Middle East, has relatively advanced labor laws that allow for the creation of elected works councils, or works Council, within companies, legally recognized structures similar to but separate from unions. Works councils must be consulted by employers on important company decisions and can have their members elected to company boards. TikTok employees in Germany founded a works council in 2022.

Hikmat El-Hammouri, regional organizer at Ver.di, a Berlin-based union who helped run the meeting, called the summit “the culmination of the work of union organizers in the workplaces of social media companies to promote this important… Helping online security guards – content moderators – fight for the justice they deserve.” He hopes the collaboration between TikTok and Meta staff can help bring new responsibilities to tech companies with employees in Germany.

TikTok, Meta, and Meta’s local moderation contractors did not respond to a request for comment.

Presenters from Kenya to India to the United States have often complained that their work is grueling, with demanding quotas and little time to make content decisions; Many have reported suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and mental health impairments. In recognition of this, many companies offer moderation staff some form of psychological counseling, but some staff say it’s insufficient.

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