Meta’s content review in Africa in limbo as moderation partners decry court restrictions

Meta’s main content review partners in Africa have been restrained from offering moderation services to the social media giant, and it is unclear who is currently reviewing its platforms in sub-Saharan Africa. Moderators sift through social media posts on Meta’s platforms to remove content that perpetrates and perpetuates hate, misinformation and violence.

Interim injunctions by a Kenyan court barred Meta from engaging its new moderation partner, Majorel, reserving that role for Sama, the outgoing subcontractor.

However, it has emerged that Sama sent all its content moderators on paid leave beginning April 1st, leaving a vacuum. This is after the court blocked Sama from laying off over 200 moderators at its hub in Kenya after the company wound down its content moderation arm to concentrate on labeling work (computer vision data annotation).

Some of the moderators had filed an emergency petition mid-March claiming illegal firing by the company, and blacklisting by Meta and Majorel, leading to the orders that were upheld Thursday.

It has emerged that the moderators’ contracts expired on March 31st, and that Sama could not vary its employment terms as the interim orders issued by the court blocked it from making any reviews. Similarly, Sama’s contract with Meta ended in March.

The court had directed Sama to serve as Meta’s sole content review provider until the case was heard. It also barred the social media giant from engaging any other party, including Majorel, Sama’s replacement, to serve sub-Saharan Africa.

In the orders, the court restrained Meta from engaging “through employment, subcontracting, or any manner whatsoever, content moderators to serve the Eastern and Southern African region through the 4th respondent (Majorel) or through any other agent, partner or representative, or in any manner whatsoever, engaging moderators to do the work currently being done by the moderators engaged through the 3rd respondent (Sama) pending the hearing of this application.”

In affidavits filed in courts and seen by TechCrunch, Majorel decried the orders barring it from offering content review services to Meta saying they threaten its business continuity, and the livelihoods of the 200 moderators it hired after setting up a hub in Kenya late last year.

“For as long as the interim orders made by the court preventing it from performing the content moderation projection remain in place, that the revenue it expected to cover the investments made by the 4th Petitioner (Majorel) is at risk and may be lost,” Sven Alfons A De Cauter, Majorel director, said in the affidavit.

Additionally, Sama said that its contract with Meta had ended, and it was accruing a huge wage bill keeping the moderators with no job.

As Majorel and Sama await the determination of the petition, Meta has engaged other providers, stoking contempt of court claims by the petitioners. It is not immediately clear who the other subcontractors are but a Meta spokesperson told TechCrunch it is working with “global partners.”

It remains to be seen if the “global partners” can properly sift through content written in hundreds of languages used across Africa – the reason why Sama and Majorel had to hire moderators from across the continent including from Ethiopia, Uganda, Somalia, and South Africa.

Meanwhile, not having enough personnel with an understanding of local languages and context, to moderate content, is already the basis of another case Meta is facing in Kenya, accusing it of fueling the Tigray war that led to deaths of over half a million people.

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