Counselors reportedly pressured to share private info about Facebook moderators

Managers at a company that oversees some of Facebook’s content moderators reportedly pressured trauma counselors to reveal private information about the staff, the Intercept reports.

Texas-based company Accenture oversees roughly 1,500 people–all of whom are tasked with moderating everything–from extreme violence to animal abuse–for Facebook.

Accenture provides counselors, referred to internally as “wellness coaches,” for workers who become overwhelmed or traumatized by viewing countless hours of graphic content.

Even though counseling sessions are protected by confidentiality laws, a letter given to the Intercept by company whistleblowers alleges that Accenture’s managers have pressured its wellness coaches to reveal what employees are saying in their sessions.

At least one counselor is said to have refused, although a manager pushed back by arguing that “confidentiality does not exist” for employees because Accenture does not constitute a “clinical setting.”

“This pressuring of a licensed counselor to divulge confidential information is at best a careless breach of trust into the Wellness program and, at worst, an ethics and possible legal violation,” the letter states.

The letter goes on to call for the manager’s immediate removal as well.

“To do any less would be Facebook, Accenture, and WeCare condoning breaches in medical confidentiality,” the letter continues. “Allowing the pressuring of a licensed counselor into committing an act [that] could strip the counselor of their credentials must be addressed swiftly.”

After learning of the alleged incident, Facebook carried out an internal investigation and is said to have found that there was “no violation or breach of trust between our licensed counselors and a contracted employee.”

When questioned on the matter by the Intercept, Facebook declined to provide specifics but provided a statement.

“All of our partners must provide a resiliency plan that is reviewed and approved by Facebook. This includes a holistic approach to wellbeing and resiliency that puts the needs of their employees first,” a Facebook spokesperson said. “All leaders and wellness coaches receive training on this employee resource and while we do not believe that there was a breach of privacy in this case, we have used this as an opportunity to reemphasize that training across the organization.”

In a similar statement, Accenture described the allegations as “inaccurate.”

“Our people’s wellbeing is our top priority and our trust-and-safety teams in Austin have unrestricted access to wellness support. Additionally, our wellness program offers proactive and on-demand counseling and is backed by a strong employee assistance program,” the company said. “Our people are actively encouraged to raise wellness concerns through these programs. We also review, benchmark and invest in our wellness programs on an ongoing basis to create the most supportive workplace environment – regularly seeking input from industry experts, medical professionals and our people.”

The Texas location bears resemblance to other private companies employed to help clean up Facebook’s most disturbing content.

A report came out in June, detailing that some moderators made as little as $28,800 a year and often developed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) due to the chaotic nature of the job.

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Mikael Thalen

Mikael Thalen

Mikael Thalen is a tech and security reporter based in Seattle, covering social media, data breaches, hackers, and more.