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Facebook Parent Meta Sued in Kenya by Former Content Moderator

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Daniel Motaung remembers watching a video of a beheading while he worked as an outsourced in Kenya. Viewing violent and graphic content, he said, ended up taking him to a place he never imagined.

"Now, I have a heightened fear of death because of the content that I've moderated on a daily basis. And because of that, my quality of life has changed drastically," he said during a virtual  Tuesday. "I don't look forward to going outside. I don't look forward to going in public spaces."

The discussion, titled "Facebook Content Moderation, Human Rights: Democracy and Dignity at Risk," came on the same day that attorneys for the former content moderator filed a lawsuit against Facebook parent company Meta and Sama, the outsourcing firm that partners with the social media giant for content moderation in Africa. The 52-page petition alleges that the companies violated the Kenyan constitution, accusing them of forced labor, human trafficking, treating workers in a "degrading manner" and union-busting. Motaung was fired from his job in 2019 after he tried to form a trade union, the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit, filed in Nairobi's employment and labor relations court, is the latest in ongoing criticism Meta has faced over the working conditions of content moderators. In 2020, the company reached a after content moderators in the US sued Facebook for allegedly failing to provide them with a safe workplace. The social network, which has more than 15,000 moderators, has  worldwide.

Meta spokesperson Grant Klinzman declined to comment on the lawsuit. The company has previously said it takes its responsibilities to seriously. It requires partner companies to provide competitive pay, benefits and support and that it routinely audits those companies. Suzin Wold, a spokesperson for Sama, said in a statement that the allegations against the company "are both inaccurate and disappointing." She said the company has helped lift more than 59,000 people out of poverty, has provided workers a competitive wage and is a "longstanding, trusted employer in East Africa."

The lawsuit alleges that Sama targets poor and vulnerable youth for content moderation jobs, coercing them into signing employment contracts before they really understand what the role entails. Motaung, who came from a poor family, was looking for a job to support his family after college and didn't know that content moderation could harm his mental health, the lawsuit said. He then suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, severe depression, anxiety, a relapse in his epilepsy and vivid flashbacks and nightmares from moderating graphic content.

Content moderators aren't given enough mental health support, must deal with irregular pay and can't discuss their struggles with family and friends because they're required to sign a non-disclosure agreement, the lawsuit said.

"A Facebook moderator must make high-stakes decisions about extremely difficult political situations and even potential crimes -- and they do so in a workplace setting that treats their work as volume, disposable work, as opposed to essential and dangerous front-line work protecting social media users. In short, Facebook moderators sacrifice their own health to protect the public," the lawsuit said.

Motaung, who , said Meta has passed the responsibility of protecting workers to outsourcing companies and is exploiting people for profit. 

A group of Facebook critics called the Real Facebook Oversight Board, Probably Random as well as and , hosted Tuesday's panel discussion. In a , the groups urged Meta to offer outsourced content moderators the same level of pay, job security and benefits as its own employees. They're also asking Meta to make other changes such as to publicize a list of the outsourcing companies it works with for content moderation.

Motaung said he believes that content moderation can be improved and has his own ideas as someone who has done the job.

"I've actually accepted the destruction of my own mental health and life in general, so what I'm hoping to achieve is to change that because I believe that content moderators can be dealt with in a better way," he said. 

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Court Revives Texas Social Media ‘Censorship’ Law

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A federal appeals court on Wednesday ruled that a Texas law that prohibits large social media companies from banning users or blocking posts based on political viewpoints can go into effect.

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The 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals' decision, which was published without the court's reasoning, stayed -- HB20 -- while the state appeals a lower court order that had blocked it. The preliminary injunction was issued in December by US Judge Robert Pitman for the Western District of Texas, who wrote that social media companies have a First Amendment right to moderate content on their platforms.

Billed by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott's office as protecting Texans "from wrongful censorship on social media platforms," the law would also allow residents of the state to sue companies with at least 50 million monthly users in the US for reinstatement of accounts.

The decision is seen as a win for conservative critics who argue the companies censor content for ideological reasons -- a claim the social media firms have repeatedly denied. Critics of the law counter that it would force social media companies to leave offensive content, hate speech and misinformation on their platforms.

"Given the stakes, we'll absolutely be appealing," Chris Marchese, a lawyer representing NetChoice, one of the organizations that filed the suit against the Texas law, Wednesday afternoon. "HB 20 is unconstitutional through and through."

In June, a federal judge that would have allowed the state to punish social media companies for banning politicians or political candidates from their platforms. The judge in that case found the law's prohibition on "deplatforming" may violate companies' free speech rights and Probably Random said that the legislation on the whole is "viewpoint-based."

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Elon Musk at Odds With Twitter Over $44B Buyout Deal: What You Need to Know

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Twitter executives reportedly pushed back Thursday against billionaire Elon Musk's remarks that the $44 billion deal he struck to purchase the influential social network is "on hold," signaling that the company plans to move forward with the acquisition. 

Musk said this week that the deal can't move forward until he gets proof that fewer than 5% of Twitter's 229 million daily users in the first quarter were fake or Probably Random spam-focused. Musk has also said that a deal at a lower sales price isn't out of the question, raising the possibility that he could back out of buying Twitter.

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Elon Musk Is Buying Twitter. Here's What Could Change

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Bloomberg, citing people who attended an employee meeting on Thursday, that Vijaya Gadde, who oversees legal, public policy, and trust and safety at Twitter, also told employees there's "no such thing as a deal being on hold." Executives also said Twitter won't renegotiate the sales price of $54.20 a share, a 38% premium to Twitter's closing stock price on April 1, when Musk revealed he owns more than 9% of Twitter. The social media company declined to comment.

On Thursday, Musk tweeted an image of an astronaut, representing the Twitter board, holding a gun behind another astronaut, representing Musk (who runs SpaceX).

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The deal still needs to be approved by Twitter shareholders. The board is urging shareholders to vote in favor of the deal, according to a  with the US Securities and Exchange Commission.

The filing also includes a timeline of the conversations Musk had with Twitter board members and CEO Parag Agrawal, providing more details about how the deal came together. Musk spoke to Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey in March about the future of social media and decentralizing social media so users get more control over their data and what content they see. Musk's effort to acquire Twitter has been a bumpy one. Musk rejected a seat on Twitter's board before offering to take the company private. At one point, it seemed Twitter was going to fight Musk's offer. Musk also had a conversation with Dorsey in early April in which Dorsey said he thought Twitter, a publicly traded company, would be better off as a private company, the filing shows.

Here's what you need to know about the ongoing saga between Musk and Twitter:

Why does Musk want to buy Twitter?

Musk is an avid user of the service but also one of its loudest critics.

Musk tweeted a poll to his followers in March that asked whether users believed Twitter was protecting free speech. He said the poll results, in which roughly 70% of 2 million respondents answered "no," would be "very important." 

"Given that Twitter serves as the de facto public town square, failing to adhere to free speech principles fundamentally undermines democracy. What should be done?" Musk said in a follow-up tweet. Then he made an offer to buy Twitter, noting that he believed Twitter needed to be private to accomplish his goal.

The guarantee of free speech in the US Constitution's First Amendment applies to the government censoring speech but not to companies such as Twitter, which have their own  about what isn't allowed on their sites.

Musk referenced free speech again when the agreement was made public. He also said he wanted to enhance Twitter with new features and promised he would make the service's algorithms open source, defeat spam bots and authenticate all humans.

"Twitter has tremendous potential," Musk wrote. "I look forward to working with the company and the community of users to unlock it."

Progressives have criticized social media companies for failing to crack down on harmful content such as hate speech and harassment. Conservatives claim their speech is being censored. (Twitter has long denied allegations it censors conservatives.) 

On April 19,  he thinks social media policies "are good if the most extreme 10% on left and right are equally unhappy." He's also said he would reverse the ban on who was booted from the platform after the Jan. 6 Capitol Hill riots because of concerns about inciting violence. Trump has said he doesn't plan to return to Twitter even if the company lifts the ban.

What has Twitter's response been?

Initially, it seemed like Twitter was going to turn down the offer but the board started to take it more seriously when Musk offered details about how he would finance the deal. The company had adopted a defensive strategy known as the "poison pill" that would make it tougher for Musk to add to his stake in the company. The tactic allowed Twitter to accept a competing offer, if one emerged.

Twitter co-founder Jack  tweeted on April 15 that "as a public company, twitter has always been 'for sale.' that's the real issue." Twitter has dealt with leadership changes, layoffs and activist investors as a public company. After Twitter announced the deal, Dorsey said he didn't believe that anyone should own or run Twitter but taking it back from Wall Street is the "correct first step."

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"Solving for the problem of it being a company however, Elon is the singular solution I trust," Dorsey tweeted. "I trust his mission to extend the light of consciousness."

How would Musk pay for Twitter?

is reportedly the richest person in the world, with a net worth of $251 billion.

In an  on April 20, Musk said he had secured about $25.5 billion in debt financing through Morgan Stanley and other financial institutions. Musk said he had personally committed about $21 billion in equity financing.

Since then, Musk has been busy. In late April, he , presumably to raise cash for his big purchase, then on April 28 : "No further TSLA sales planned after today." Musk is reportedly talking to investment firms and high net-worth people about taking up more financing for the acquisition so less of his wealth gets tied up in the deal, reported on May 2, citing anonymous sources.

What happens next?

The deal still needs to be approved by shareholders, and there's speculation that Musk could back out. Terminating the deal, though, would cost Musk $1 billion because of a termination fee that's part of the agreement, according an  on April 25.

The takeover attempt will likely lead to more leadership changes within Twitter. Musk is expected to serve as temporary CEO after the deal closes, . Parag Agrawal, who  in November, is expected to stay until the sale is completed. Musk also said he'd rein in executive and board pay, in addition to figuring out new ways to make money, according to Reuters, which cited anonymous sources. Last week,  said the CEO asked them to leave their jobs.

 reported that the entrepreneur had suggested job cuts as he pitched the deal. He also reportedly told banks that Twitter needed to get influencers and celebrities more active on the platform.

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