TikTok and Meta content moderators in Germany have joined forces to demand better worker rights for some of the most vulnerable staff at social media companies, forming the first industry-wide collective of its kind in Europe.
The push is the result of a meeting in Berlin this week, led by the German trade union Verdi and tech justice group Foxglove, which gathered more than 40 workers who moderate content on TikTok and Meta-owned platforms such as Facebook and Instagram.
The new group is seeking a formal agreement with social media platforms over the rights of content moderators, who are often hired on short-term or zero-hours contracts, and work long and intense shifts while reviewing some of the most harmful and illegal material on platforms.
As part of the push, the new group wants Meta and TikTok to recognise that staff have the right to collectively bargain or unionise, as well as form legally protected “works councils” that exist across many EU countries for companies of a certain size to negotiate on matters of wages, hours and working conditions.
The group of German moderators said if its demands were not met, it planned to take legal action against social media companies to secure better labour standards.
“The moderators here [are] demanding that Big Tech sort out their factory floor,” said Martha Dark, director at Foxglove.
The work of content moderators can lead to long-term mental health issues, including post-traumatic stress disorder, and contracts have previously included liability waivers for the mental impact of their jobs. The new collective said it would push for new rules for big tech companies to provide workers with access to independent, 24-hour clinical support.
Thousands of staff across most social media networks have been laid off in recent months as the companies experienced a slowdown in revenues due to a fall in advertising spend, driving employees to seek formal representation.
Social media companies rarely recognise labour movements. Twitter and Meta do not have internal unions, but staff at Google parent Alphabet, which owns YouTube, formed a union in 2021, in what it called the first of its kind.
Last year, the Financial Times revealed how staff in TikTok offices across Europe and in South Korea had launched works councils for formal worker representation.
“Without the hidden army of content moderators, there is no Facebook, no TikTok, no YouTube and no Google,” said Dark.
“No one knows better than them the steps that must be taken to keep us safe online. Immediate steps must now be taken by the companies to keep workers safe. There is no excuse, and tech giants must make this right without delay.”
TikTok and Meta did not immediately respond to a request for comment.