Content Moderator Sues TikTok For Failing to Protect Workers’ Mental Health

A Nevada woman has sued ByteDance Inc. and TikTok Inc. for negligence, negligent exercise of retained control, and violations of the California Unfair Competition Law (UCL). She says that at ByteDance and TikTok’s direction, she had to witness acts of extreme violence including sexual violence that allegedly caused her psychological trauma in the course of her duties as a content moderator for the Chinese video sharing platform.

The Los Angeles, California federal lawsuit filed before the long holiday weekend, explains that the plaintiff seeks to protect herself and all others similarly situated from psychological effects of the content moderation role, which includes viewing thousands of grotesque videos and scrubbing them from the platform for the benefit of users. 

The woman claims that ByteDance and TikTok are “aware of the negative psychological effects that viewing graphic and objectionable content has on Content Moderators.” Yet, the complaint argues that they have not implemented industry-recognized safety standards to protect content moderators from harm like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, and depression.

The plaintiff herself worked for the defendants through a non-party, staffing agency Telus International, as a contractor. She alleges that ByteDance and TikTok failed to employ bonafied measures for mitigating harm, like implementing a “resilience program” to screen for candidate appropriateness and on-the-job protocols such as limiting the amount of time moderators are exposed to child sexual abuse imagery or footage.

The complaint seeks to certify a class of anyone who performed content moderation work for the defendants domestically. The lawsuit states several causes of action for variations of negligence, including “abnormally dangerous activity,” a strict liability offense, as well as several UCL claims.

The lawsuit seeks both damages and injunctive relief requiring the companies to change their policies and practices governing content moderation. The plaintiff and putative class are represented by the Joseph Saveri Law Firm LLP.