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TL;DR: YouTube is being sued by a former content moderator who allegedly developed symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression after reviewing thousands of disturbing videos. It's claimed that the Google-owned company didn't do enough to protect the mental health of its moderators, who spend more than four hours every day reviewing graphic content.
The proposed class-action lawsuit is being brought by the same law firm— Joseph Saveri—that sued Facebook in 2018 on behalf of a moderator who said the lack of support she received caused her to develop PTSD. It won the suit, with the social network settling for $52 million.
As reported by CNET, YouTube is accused of violating California law by failing to provide a safe workplace for its content moderators. It allegedly never followed its own safety guidelines and did not offer enough support.
According to the lawsuit, the plaintiff worked for YouTube through a staffing agency at an office in Austin, Texas, from January 2018 to August 2019. Some of the videos she had to review during her time included people eating from a smashed open skull, child rape, suicide, bestiality, school shootings with dead children, a fox being skinned alive, and a person's head getting run over by a tank.
"She has trouble sleeping and when she does sleep, she has horrific nightmares. She often lays awake at night trying to go to sleep, replaying videos that she has seen in her mind," says the lawsuit. It adds that she can no longer be in crowded places, suffers panic attacks, has lost friends, has trouble being around kids, and is frightened to have children.
The suit also alleges that potential moderators weren't told about the negative impact the job could have on their mental health. And while they are told they can leave the room when being shown graphic content during training, people were concerned that doing so "might mean losing their job."
Counselors advised trainees to get enough sleep and exercise and take regular breaks during work, but "these promised breaks were illusory." One coach allegedly suggested the plaintiff take illegal drugs to cope with her symptoms, while another told a co-worker to "trust in God."
Moderators were regularly exposed to over four hours per day of graphic content—more than YouTube advises—due to understaffing, and were fearful of making complaints in case they were reported to management.
Content moderators suing over PTSD is nothing new—Microsoft faced a similar lawsuit in 2017. Earlier this year, it was revealed that a YouTube contractor was asking employees to sign a document acknowledging that the content they would be reviewing may be disturbing and could lead to PTSD.
"Content Moderators were left with a Hobbesian's choice -- quit and lose access to an income and medical insurance or continue to suffer in silence to keep their job," the lawsuit states.