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illustration by nzilani simu / instagram
Big Tech’s Success: The Untold Stories of THE Exploitation of African Workers

Sonia, Koffi, Mojez, Kauna, Pacific, Mophat, Kings, Daniel, Nathan – they all tell their stories in this magazine. Hailing from diverse countries, professional backgrounds and cultures, they share a common thread: all have worked as a social media content moderator in Kenya. Each has spent countless hours sifting through unimaginably graphic and disturbing content to ensure it doesn’t reach our social media feeds. Exploited by the world’s most powerful tech giants, their critical work has been outsourced and rendered invisible. Despite their precarious working conditions, they refuse to see themselves as victims. Instead, they take pride in having put themselves on the line to protect others.

Throughout our journey with this magazine, we have encountered numerous moderators whose bravery and pride shine through. For the first time, they are sharing their stories – unfiltered and raw. Their narratives are of suffering and exploitation, but also of pride and labour organising. They tell of battles against Big Tech and an unwavering commitment to safeguarding future generations from exploitation and suffering. As Sonia, a former content moderator, says, ‘Pursuing justice for content moderators is my biggest source of energy.’

This magazine is published at a pivotal moment, as the Kenyan government places significant emphasis on digital and online jobs for the youth. Senior government officials have extolled the virtues of Big Tech and outsourcing companies operating in Kenya, urging the youth to seize the opportunities presented by the so-called ‘Taptangelei’ economic phenomenon. Yet, these same politicians often remain silent about the risks and perils inherent in digital work. As Nerima Wako, Executive Director of Siasa Place, notes, Kenya lacks clear and robust policy and regulatory frameworks for labour in the digital era; job security and social protections are equally deficient. Moreover, as Big Tech companies keep their presence in African countries at arm’s length through BPOs, and country hop when conditions become unfavourable, it is clear that African countries must act in tandem on these frameworks or all lose out to these exploitative practices.

This magazine emerges amidst the growing prominence of AI, a buzzword dominating the tech landscape as these systems are deployed across sectors. While discussions about AI proliferate, the working conditions integral to the AI supply chain remain conspicuously absent from the conversation. In this publication, you will meet Mophat, who worked tirelessly to ensure that Chat GPT did not generate inappropriate content.

You will hear from Kauna, who sheds light on the challenges faced by women in the industry, and from Daniel, one of the first whistleblowers to expose the industry’s practices. Those who moved from their home countries to take up content moderator jobs in Nairobi describe the particular difficulties of working as a foreigner in Kenya. We also feature powerful contributions from anonymous voices who, due to fear of retribution, cannot reveal their identities.

Content moderators stand united in their demands: they seek to transform content moderation into a safe, fairly compensated job that prioritises worker health, to which end they are in the process of formalising the African Content Moderators Union. Content moderators reject the exploitation perpetuated by Big Tech. Together, they are powerful. Now is the time to listen to their stories and demands, and to stand in solidarity with them.

Mojez, Nerima and Julia

 

Illustration by Nzilani Sumo

— visit Nzilanis Instagram

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