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Facebook contractor Cognizant withdraws from content moderation

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Technology services company Cognizant is cutting back on its content moderation business in order to invest more in growth areas such as IoT and cloud services.

Cognizant, which is headquartered in New Jersey, counts some of the world’s largest companies among its clients, including Facebook. Under growing pressure to handle inappropriate user-generated content on its platforms, Facebook has been contracting out much of its content moderation responsibilities to Cognizant.

The firm's employees are then required to review posts flagged up by users or algorithms as potentially inappropriate and make decisions on whether they should be permitted to remain on the platform or be removed, checking thousands of pieces of flagged content every day.

Two investigative reports published by the The Verge have alleged that Cognizant employees working with Facebook content in Phoenix and Tampa are suffering in shocking working conditions. The reports describe moderators developing serious psychological conditions such as PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and substance abuse as a result of their disturbing work reviewing graphic violence, hate speech, conspiracy theories and terrorist propaganda.

Now, Cognizant has announced that it will be closing some of its content moderation business, including those focused on identifying and reviewing inappropriate content. In a call with analysts, CEO Brian Humphries commented that reviewing “objectionable materials” was not part of its vision for the future of the company. Cognizant has not commented on whether The Verge reports about poor working conditions influenced its decision to move away from content moderation.

“Exiting this area will impact an additional approximately 6,000 roles worldwide, though the company intends to work with its partners to explore ways to transition the roles to alternative vendors, thereby reducing the impact to associates,” he told analysts. It was acknowledged that the job losses would have a negative impact on the company's financial performance in the short-term.

Arun Chandra, VP of scaled operations at Facebook, commented: “We’ll work with our partners during this transition to ensure there’s no impact on our ability to review content and keep people safe.” According to Reuters, Facebook has at least five different contractors in at least eight countries working on content moderation. The social media company will be increasing the number of human reviewers at a site in Texas operated by Genpact Ltd.

Appearing before a Congressional committee last week, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg declined a challenge from Representative Katie Porter to try spending an hour a day doing frontline content moderation work so he could see first-hand the disturbing content being shared on his platforms.

Cognizant is expected to eliminate up to 7,000 more jobs in its other departments to free up equity to invest in key growth areas such as the IoT and cloud computing services in a 'Fit for Growth' plan. The company has raised its revenue growth guidance for the full year from 3.9-4.9 per cent to 4.6-4.9 per cent.

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