Cognizant ending content moderation for Facebook, may cut Tampa jobs

The technology firm said it will end content moderation services in 2020. Employees said they struggled after being exposed to explicit content.
[RON BORRESEN   |   Times]
[RON BORRESEN | Times] [ Ron Borresen ]
Published Oct. 31, 2019|Updated Oct. 31, 2019

TAMPA — Cognizant Technology Solutions said it is getting out of the content moderation business in 2020, and that could mean job cuts at the Carrollwood facility where workers have grappled with removing explicit content from Facebook.

Cognizant announced the shift in an earnings call Wednesday. Employees also received an email from Cognizant CEO Brian Humphries, obtained by the Tampa Bay Times. In it, he explained that the company will focus on its other content services — but in 2020 it will stop flagging disturbing content for clients, most prominently Facebook.

“We’ve determined that this subset of work is not in line with the company’s strategic vision,” Humphries said.

RELATED: These Tampa workers see disturbing Facebook posts so you don’t. But it takes a toll.

Cognizant won a contract to moderate Facebook content and established content moderation sites in Phoenix and Tampa in 2017. Reuters reported that the strategic shift means the company will shed 6,000 jobs, but it was not known how many jobs will be affected in Tampa.

Moderating Facebook content is a grueling job that took its toll on Cognizant’s workforce. The dysfunctional conditions at Cognizant’s Tampa office were the subject of a story published earlier this summer by the Verge.

In August, the Times published a report about the challenges workers faced and raised questions about whether Cognizant was effectively cleaning up Facebook.

Cognizant’s moderators described distressing work conditions for those who regularly reviewed graphic violence and hate speech. Many said they suffered psychologically and had access to few mental health resources to help them cope. Some plan to file lawsuits.

The company disputed reports that it has a toxic workplace.

The content moderation sites in Tampa and Phoenix will operate through March 1, said Facebook Vice President of Scaled Operations Arun Chandra in a statement.

“Cognizant and Facebook are committed to a smooth transition during this period of change,” he said.

Facebook employs third-party content review operations all over the world to operate 24-hours a day and filter posts in more than 50 languages that users flag as violating its community standards. Facebook said they will increase their moderators at a site in Texas to make up for Cognizant’s exit.

For now, the Tampa site will continue to operate as usual.

“It is premature to speculate at this point about the facility," Cognizant spokesman Rick Lacroix wrote in an email to the Times. “We are working with our clients on mutually agreed-upon ramp down plans.”

The company said it will also provide employees with “transition assistance programs” including severance packages and re-training programs.

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Cognizant also plans to invest $5 million to research algorithms that could help automate content moderation and reduce the need for humans to screen graphic images.

“While we intend to exit this work, we recognize that cleansing the web of objectionable content is a worthy cause and one in which companies have a role to play,” Humphries wrote in the email to staff.