Teleperformance, the company used by TikTok and others to police their feeds for illegal and harmful content, has backtracked on a 4-month-old pledge to workers that it would give up reviewing extreme posts.
It made the decision to maintain the practice after conducting internal audits and third-party reviews, “with a special focus on its people management and workplace practices,” Teleperformance said in a statement late Wednesday. Shares fell as much as 7.8% in Paris on Thursday, to a four-month low.
The change of plan highlights the challenges online platforms face in protecting their users from disturbing content, a function that’s typically offloaded to contractors. While AI systems can help reduce moderators’ exposure to extreme material, they aren’t good enough to completely eliminate the need for human review.
The Paris-based contractor said in November it would exit the “highly egregious part of the trust and safety business,” after a report that employees were subject to occupational trauma from monitoring disturbing images of violence, suicide and animal cruelty.
Read More: Behind TikTok’s Boom: A Legion of Traumatized, $10-A-Day Content Moderators
But Teleperformance continued to ask employees in Tunisia to review posts that included child sexual abuse, animal abuse, gore and violence, people familiar with the matter said in a Bloomberg News report on Monday. Chief Financial Officer Olivier Rigaudy had said that the company was continuing to honor existing contracts, and that it was also struggling to define “highly egregious” which has different connotations in different cultures and under disparate legal systems.
“Teleperformance is now convinced that it is in the best interest of the billions of people that are online every day that Teleperformance continues to serve the content moderation needs of its clients in full and not exit any part of the business,” it said in the statement.
Stifel analyst Simon Lechipre said in a note that Teleperformance’s U-turn “sends a confusing message overall” that “could be taken negatively by some investors.”
Nicole Manion at UBS agreed, saying that investors “may be concerned” both about exposure of content moderators to highly egregious content and the “reversal of the previous announcement that was seen to provide clarity on their position on this issue.”
Teleperformance said it made the decision after seeking third-party reviews of its practices from some of its clients, consulting firm Korn Ferry and audit company Bureau Veritas SA.
— With assistance from Henry Ren.
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