👎 Outsource & Deskill
Insurrection in Brazil | Meta’s content moderation loss | FTC to ban noncompetes
Hello Best Online Friends. Let’s do what we do best together: v i b e
This week was really not good… not good at all 👎. There’s just been so much, where do I even begin:
The very fact that people can communicate with each other on social media has led to an insurrection in Brazil
Meta still need to decide if they’re going to reinstate Trump, which is a problem that frankly shouldn’t exist
Meta’s content moderation hub in Kenya will be pulling the plug
Actually there was one good thing: the FTC want to get rid of noncompete clauses for US workers
🪨 Stuck between a Trump and a hard place
Everything that happens to Meta is literally a result of its enormous and unacceptable power. Its shrinking revenue is only of note because under capitalism, companies are just supposed to keep making more and more money with every passing quarter. Never mind that even though the numbers are going down, they are still unbelievably high.
That’s also why their layoffs look significant: when they let go of n% of their workforce worldwide, that’s LOADS of people. The other day someone on Mastodon mentioned that all these layoffs — as in, across all tech companies — are only happening because they’re copying each other. No one wants to be left behind. I think there’s probably something to that, but with Meta, I don’t think it’s true at all. Things are going terribly for them (relatively speaking).
At the time of writing, they still haven’t decided whether to let Trump back onto Facebook. This is all happening while Brazil just had their own insurrection, led by the very dangerous, and the very galvanised, far right movement over there. I’m not going to pull apart all the horrid entangled reasons behind this event, because I don’t know what they are. I just know that it happened, and many are concerned that Meta’s platforms were used for organising. Here’s a quote from Platformer:
“Tech platforms, most notably WhatsApp and Telegram, proved to be a powerful organizing channel for rioters. Social posts advertising a ’war cry part’ at the capitol drew hundreds of people to buses that ferried them to government sites.”
Yes, it’s scary that these people are so organised but we can’t really centre social media in this discussion — people used to organise all the time without it. If WhatsApp didn’t exist it would be all on Telegram. If Telegram didn’t exist it would be on something else. If the internet didn’t exist they’d use the phone. The use of large social media platforms for this kind of organising is entangled with another problem, and it’s that companies like Meta are too big and powerful. This is probably not exactly what Mark Zuckerberg meant when he said he wanted people to use his platform to ‘stay connected’ but apparently, this is what that looks like.
🤦♀️ I would also like to point out that the ‘problem’ of deciding whether Trump should be allowed back onto Meta’s giant social media platform is, again, only a ‘problem’ because of how giant they are. This decision has nothing to do with Facebook’s content moderation policies or user agreements — it’s literally politics, a game that they should not be playing. Looking forward to hearing complaints from the right/left once the decision is made. If they do reinstate Trump, and he announces that he will never post on there again anyway, I wouldn’t consider that a win at all — but Facebook would.
🤾 How to outsource your problems to someone else
Meta sure are in a deep-dish of shit pizza this week. Sama, one of their outsourced content moderation outfits have decided that they don’t want to do content moderation anymore. I’ve written about Sama before — they fired an employee for trying to unionise, and that employee is now suing them, and Meta. Their content moderation efforts were also pretty much fruitless: they are based in Kenya, and therefore employ people who are from Kenya, but were still unable to suppress incitements of violence on the platform, in the lead up to the Kenyan elections last year.
🧊 Cool facts
Sama say that they aren’t renewing the contract for content moderation services because of the “current economic climate”.
Working conditions at Sama are just fine, but only if you like being under-payed to probably get PTSD — unsure whether any of that informed their decision to stop content moderation
Sama were not originally brought on to do content moderation… it sort of seeped in over the years.
Meta will now outsource this work to Majorel, who apparently provide even worse conditions.
It’s very clear that content moderation at Facebook’s scale does not work well enough — but it’s also clear that Facebook don’t have to care about that, or about the working conditions. That’s the beauty of outsourcing. As an employer, you can always say, ‘well my employees get paid loads, and don’t have PTSD!’ Good for them, I’m so glad
👷♂️ Don’t worry, not all workers are completely doomed
Because, the FTC want to ban noncompete agreements for workers in the US. Just in case someone with even your supreme intellect doesn’t know what that is: a noncompete is a part of a worker’s contract that says they aren’t allowed to leave their job to work for a competitor in the sector.
Okay so… just so we’re all clear: Horrific/Terrific is a newsletter primarily about tech. That means, when deciding want to write about, I literally only look at tech news. When I saw this headline pop up on one of my RSS feeds it really stuck out, because it isn’t related to the tech sector in an obvious way — but I’m really glad I came across it.
👩🏫 Let’s go to school about this: The reason why this is ‘relevant’ to the tech sector is that for all Big Tech players, noncompetes play a huge role in essentially creating high-level bullshit jobs. E.g. anyone who just got a PhD that’s vaguely related to AI will have a job waiting for them at Google, with a big fat noncompete clause. What’s the job? Get paid 500k a year to not work at Meta, Amazon, Apple, or Microsoft. That’s it. They don’t have to be doing anything special — it’s just talent that one company is hiding away from everyone else.
⁉️ Okay but what about software engineers: so, yes, these people technically do necessary work (if you believe that maintaining Facebook’s newsfeed is indeed ‘necessary’), and yes they probably also have noncompetes. But again, they are grossly overpaid, and coddled into thinking that the value of their particular skillset is completely unmatched across the entire world, the solar system, universe, and all other conceivable dimensions. Their work situations are not precarious, so if they really wanted to switch companies for even higher pay, they probably could — because they can afford a lawyer.
A ban of noncompetes would make no difference to all the people described above, because they are totally fine. They are the reason why I saw this news in the first place — this piece of news has been classed by some as ‘tech policy’. But the people reading about it and writing about it probably won’t even think about other workers, who may work for tech companies, but are not necessarily doing ‘tech jobs’. I’m talking about cleaners, warehouse workers, admin assistants, and so on. Even they are subject to noncompetes, because:
If you’re an employer who says ‘you’re only allowed to do this work for me, and never for anyone else’ then you are essentially removing what little bargaining power your employees had
The skills gained on a job with a noncompete are irrelevant, because they can’t be used anywhere else — it’s another form of deskilling
Having a noncompete when your work is already precarious is also a great form of intimidation, so this gives employers and overall deskilled and highly replaceable workforce — who they can keep on low pay.
If you read some of the quotes from Lina Khan in the announcement linked above, you’ll see that she says that this also good for business, because it will improve the talent pool and whatever else. I literally don’t care about any of that shit. If you see this news making the rounds, and people start talking about how this will be good for software engineers, throw your drink in their face (or something less extreme). Everything is already good for software engineers ffs. If this rule goes through, it will be something that is finally good for actual workers — that’s the important part here.
Thank you for reading, have a good weekend. I’m going into a cryogenic state until summer time. Bye!