Social media has provided near-countless ways for people to communicate with one another. The “marketplaces of ideas” that social media companies provide, however, require constant moderation in order to enforce rules against inappropriate and illegal content. Facebook, which is based in Northern California, has been the world’s largest social media service for over a decade, and now has more than two billion active monthly users. The company employs content moderators, through a staffing agency, to review posts by Facebook users and remove those that violate the service’s rules. A former content moderator has filed a putative class action alleging that the company has negligently failed to maintain a safe work environment for its content moderators, and that this has caused her to “suffer from significant psychological trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder.” Scola v. Facebook, Inc. et al, No. 18CIV05135, complaint at 2 (Cal. Super. Ct., San Mateo Cty., Sep. 21, 2018). The lawsuit also asserts several causes of action under the California Unfair Competition Law (CUCL). If you have a question about an issue you’re experiencing at work, contact a California business lawyer.
The Scola lawsuit is primarily based on the common-law theory of negligence. In order to prevail on a negligence claim in a court of law, a plaintiff must prove four elements by a preponderance of evidence: (1) the defendant owed a duty of care to the plaintiff or the general public; (2) the defendant breached this duty of care; (3) this breach was the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injuries; and (4) the plaintiff has suffered a measurable loss because of these injuries.
The CUCL defines “unfair competition,” in part, as “any unlawful…business act or practice.” Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code § 17200. The plaintiff in Scola cites various provisions of the California Labor Code, and alleges that violations by the defendants constitute “unfair competition.” State law generally requires employers to “furnish employment and a place of employment that is safe and healthful for the employees therein.” Cal. Lab. Code § 6400(a). Employers must take various affirmative steps to safeguard the workplace and their employees, including the use of “an effective injury prevention program.” Id. at § 6401.7(a).
According to her complaint, the plaintiff worked as a “Public Content Contractor” at Facebook’s Menlo Park headquarters from June 2017 until March 2018. Scola, complaint at 3-4. Her job involved reviewing content posted by users, which other users had flagged as inappropriate. She states in her complaint that the company receives more than one million such reports every day. She alleges that her daily routine involved viewing videos, photographs, and live streams of “extreme and graphic violence,” including “beheadings, suicide, and murder.” Id. at 2. This took a profound psychological toll, the plaintiff claims.
While the company “helped craft industry standards for minimizing harm to content moderators,” the plaintiff alleges that it “failed to implement those standards” for its own content moderators. Id. at 6. The company hired her as an independent contractor through a staffing service. In support of her negligence claim, she alleges that it “retain[ed] control over safety conditions…and then negligently exercise[d] that control in a manner that affirmatively contribute[d] to [her] injuries.” Id. at 11-12. She also alleges CUCL violations by both Facebook and the staffing company.
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