Behind TikTok’s Boom: A Legion of Traumatized, $10-A-Day Content Moderators

“horrific” videos “are part and parcel of everyday work for TikTok moderators in Colombia.”

They told the Bureau of Investigative Journalism about widespread occupational trauma and inadequate psychological support, demanding or impossible performance targets, punitive salary deductions and extensive surveillance. Their attempts to unionize to secure better conditions have been opposed repeatedly. TikTok’s rapid growth in Latin America — it has an estimated 100 million users in the region — has led to the hiring of hundreds of moderators in Colombia to fight a never-ending battle against disturbing content. They work six days a week on day and night shifts, with some paid as little as 1.2 million pesos ($254) a month, compared to around $2,900 for content moderators based in the U.S….

The nine moderators could only speak anonymously for fear they might lose their jobs, or undermine their future employment prospects…. The TikTok moderation system described by these moderators is built on exacting performance targets. If workers do not get through a huge number of videos, or return late from a break, they can lose out on a monthly bonus worth up to a quarter of their salary. It is easy to lose out on the much-needed extra cash. Ãlvaro, a current TikTok moderator, has a target of 900 videos per day, with about 15 seconds to view each video. He works from 6am to 3pm, with two hours of break time, and his base salary is 1.2m pesos ($254) a month, only slightly higher than Colombia’s minimum salary…. He once received a disciplinary notice known internally as an “action form” for only managing to watch 700 videos in a shift, which was considered “work avoidance”. Once a worker has an action form, he says, they cannot receive a bonus that month….

Outsourcing moderation to countries in the global south like Colombia works for businesses because it is cheap, and workers are poorly protected…. For now… TikTok’s low-paid moderators will keep working to their grueling targets, sifting through some of the internet’s most nightmarish content.

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