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26 Jul 2022

Billy Perrigo (Times)

Human Rights Groups Call on Facebook to Drop ‘Racist’ Attempt to Silence Whistleblower

Facebook’s parent company Meta is facing strong pushback from human rights groups over its handling of a whistleblower who alleges in a Kenyan court case that the company benefits from exploitative working conditions and has engaged in human trafficking, forced labor and union-busting. In an open letter published late Wednesday, more than 80 human rights groups, activists, and tech industry luminaries called on Facebook to drop its attempt to impose a gag order against South African whistleblower Daniel Motaung.

In late June, lawyers for Facebook and Sama had called for a gag order on Motaung at a court hearing, arguing that he risked prejudicing the case by speaking to the press. In response, the judge declined to impose an immediate gag order but told lawyers for Facebook and Sama to bring contempt of court proceedings against Motaung if they believed they had evidence to support them.

In emails to TIME after this story was published, Meta and Sama said that they do not plan to formally file such proceedings. “We have not filed nor do we plan to file a ‘gag order’ against Daniel Motaung,” said Sama’s chief marketing officer Suzin Wold in an email. “We have not issued contempt of court proceedings against Daniel Motaung,” said Meta spokesperson Ben Walters in an email. Meta told TIME that it would not issue such proceedings in the future either.

Motaung was paid $2.20 per hour as a content moderator for Sama, an outsourcing firm contracted by Facebook to screen posts from across sub-Saharan Africa for harmful content. He was fired in 2019 after attempting to start a union. Motaung accuses both Sama and Meta of union-busting and human trafficking, among other charges. He’s now suing both companies in a Nairobi court.

The open letter called on Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Sama CEO Wendy Gonzalez to “respect Daniel’s right to speak his truth” and “immediately cease your attempts to impose a gag order.” It also calls on both Facebook and Sama to support unionization in their content moderation workforces. Facebook argues that it never employed Motaung and that it should therefore be struck as a defendant from the case. Sama denies mistreating workers and says it supports unionization...

“Meta and Sama publicly claim to champion freedom of expression, and to support global movements fighting for equality and racial justice,” the letter says. “It is impossible to square such statements with your actions in Kenya and with your treatment of content moderation workers globally.” “It appears Meta and Sama would rather shut Daniel up than meaningfully address his allegations,” the letter says.

The letter also argues that there is a discrepancy between how Facebook has treated Motaung, who is Black, and how it has treated white people seeking accountability in the past. It notes that Haugen, who leaked thousands of pages of company documents last year, and who is white, has been left to speak freely. “It appears to us that [Facebook] is making a racist calculation that it can safely seek to silence Daniel without causing itself a PR crisis,” the letter says...