Facebook moderators at Accenture are being forced back to the office, and many are scared for their safety

Facebook moderators employed by third-party contracting firm Accenture and based in Austin, Texas are being forced to return to the office on October 12th, The Verge has learned.

Employees, almost all of whom are contractors, were instructed of the new policy at a company-wide town hall meeting today, say multiple people familiar with Accenture’s plans. Accenture, which has allowed its workforce of hundreds of moderators to work from home since March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, has not given the employees a reason for why they must return to the office. Accenture did not take questions at the town hall meeting, telling concerned employees that it would look into scheduling a second call to answer COVID-specific questions regarding matters like sick leave and time off.

Facebook has an estimated 15,000 paid contractors almost entirely employed by third-party firms, and therefore not eligible for many of the same benefits as corporate employees. These contractors often spend their days looking at graphic videos, hate speech, and other disturbing material posted to the social network in large volumes on a daily basis. Some Facebook moderators, including those employed by Accenture, have developed post-traumatic stress disorders, and Facebook in May settled with current and former moderators for $52 million in a ruling that concluded the job had severe negative mental health effects.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, however, tech employees and a large swath of those companies’ contract workforces have shifted to remote work. Some platform owners, including Facebook and YouTube, say this shift has hindered their moderation work because of privacy issues that involve employees working in the office on protected machines that handle sensitive user data.

YouTube in March said it would rely more on artificial intelligence to fill