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Content moderator in Germany put on leave after testifying over work conditions

A social media content moderator in Germany has been put on paid leave pending an internal investigation by his employer TELUS International, the union Verdi said, after he publicly called on lawmakers to improve industry working conditions in Germany.

Cengiz Haksöz, a moderator at outsourcer TELUS International, appeared before the Bundestag’s Digital Council last week, where he told lawmakers his work screening social media platforms for harmful material left him “mentally and emotionally drained”.

Following his appearance, trade union Verdi said Haksöz had been placed on a paid leave of absence pending an internal investigation by TELUS, one of a number of well-known outsource providers of content-moderation services for Facebook, among others.

TELUS International Chief Corporate Officer Marilyn Tyfting said that Haksöz had been suspended “because he did not honour their employment agreements”.

“The recent allegations made by our team member at the Bundestag and in the media do not accurately reflect the reality of our business and the health and wellness resources we offer our team members,” Tyfting added.

Meta and other social media companies have faced criticism over the working conditions of content moderators who aim to keep their platforms free from harmful material. In 2020, the firm paid a $52 million settlement to American content moderators suffering long-term mental health issues.

Martha Dark, a director at the nonprofit Foxglove, which has helped organise a content moderators’ campaign over their work conditions, described Haksöz’s suspension as “outrageous bullying”.

“Cengiz was invited to testify to the German parliament about the dangerous working conditions on social media’s factory floor. He had every right to do so,” Dark said.

As part of his testimony, Haksöz delivered a petition to German lawmakers, signed by more than 300 content moderators, calling for a new set of legal protections for those in the industry, including improved access to mental health services, a ban on non-disclosure agreements (NDAs), and improved pay and benefits.

Reuters asked Haksöz for further comment, but did not immediately receive a reply.

Christoph Schmitz, an organiser at Verdi, said that TELUS had violated Haksöz’s civil rights and that the union planned to take legal action against the firm.

“TELUS’s actions are not only illegal but also show a disregard for democracy,” Schmitz said. Reuters

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