Facebook has told its employees to continue working from home until July 2021, but the policy was not extended to all of its thousands of contractors around the world hired as content moderators.

Facebook Moderators Seek Better Coronavirus Protections: Live Updates

Facebook Moderators Seek Better Coronavirus Protections: Live Updates

Facebook Moderators Seek Better Coronavirus Protections: Live Updates

Credit…Richard Drew/Associated Press

Facebook announced in August an extension of its coronavirus-protection policy, telling employees to continue working from home until July 2021.

But the safeguard was not extended to all of Facebook’s thousands of contractors who are deployed as content moderators around the world to screen out hate speech, misinformation, sexual harassment, child abuse and other harmful content. Many of the moderators, who work for outsourcing firms like Accenture and CPL, have been called back to the office.

On Wednesday, more than 200 moderators and other Facebook workers sent an open letter to Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive; Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer; and the top executives at Accenture and CPL, criticizing their treatment of content moderators. Workers in Ireland, Germany, Poland and the United States have tested positive for the coronavirus, according to Foxglove, a law firm representing the moderators.

The moderators, who are classified as contractors, said their health was being sacrificed to help Facebook respond to growing pressure from policymakers and regulators around the world who want the company to do more to clean up its platform. Without their contributions, the moderators said, Facebook cannot do the job.

“Without our work, Facebook is unusable,” the letter said. “Your algorithms cannot spot satire. They cannot sift journalism from disinformation. They cannot respond quickly enough to self-harm or child abuse. We can.”

The letter was circulated on Facebook’s internal network called Workplace. About 30 percent of the signatories included their name or contact information, while the rest asked to remain anonymous out of fear of retribution, said Cori Crider, a lawyer at Foxglove.

In the letter, the workers asked Facebook, Accenture and CPL to maximize work-from-home capabilities, particularly for those who are in a high-risk group for becoming seriously ill from Covid-19 or who live with somebody at high risk. They also called for hazard pay and improved health care and mental health support. As contractors, they are not entitled to the same benefits as full-time employees.

Facebook defended its practices, saying that a majority of its 15,000 content reviewers continue to work from home during the pandemic and that it provides health care and “well-being resources” for workers.

“While we believe in having an open internal dialogue, these discussions need to be honest,” Toby Partlett, a spokesman for Facebook, said in a statement. “Facebook has exceeded health guidance on keeping facilities safe for any in-office work.”

The letter highlights the squeeze Facebook is facing. As workers criticize the company for poor treatment, the company is under pressure to more aggressively screen out harmful material.

The workers called for the company to stop outsourcing the work to companies like Accenture and CPL and to bring the jobs in-house, where the workers would receive better pay and benefits.

“If moderators are so vital to Facebook’s business that it will ask them to risk their lives to work in offices with live Covid cases,” Ms. Crider said, “Facebook ought to employ them and give them the full rights of Facebook employees.”

Credit…Taylor Glascock for The New York Times

The Treasury Department’s Office of Financial Research warned on Wednesday that there were “significant downside risks” to the nation’s financial stability from the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic and predicted that many households and businesses might be unable to recover without additional government assistance.

In its annual report to Congress, the O.F.R. detailed the gravity of the threat that the financial system faced earlier this year as the virus unexpectedly compelled businesses to shut down across the United States and caused officials to impose stay-at-home orders around much of the country. It praised government efforts to support the economy, but suggested that substantial uncertainty remains because of the unpredictable path of the virus.

“Due to the novelty of the virus, the unknowns of its course and the response of health policy, many businesses are unsure when or even if they will resume normal operations and what new safeguards they must erect,” the report said. “Such uncertainty can weigh heavily on economic activity.”

The report from O.F.R., which was created out of the Dodd-Frank Act of 2010 and is a bureau within the Treasury Department, comes as lawmakers and the White House have failed to find a path forward to provide additional economic relief money to millions of struggling Americans. The report said that the “considerable” monetary and fiscal stimulus implemented earlier this year did serve as a bridge to an economic recovery, but that macroeconomic risk still remains “unusually high.”

Credit risk remains one of the biggest concerns, as lenders to the commercial real estate, energy and “high touch” sectors face big losses from defaults and bankruptcies. Meanwhile, a return to elevated valuations for risky assets could lead to another round of market stress despite efforts by the Federal Reserve to stabilize markets earlier this year.

Democrats and Republicans have been divided for months over the scale of another stimulus package. House Democrats passed a $3 trillion bill in May, while Senate Republicans, concerned about mounting debt, favored a more targeted $500 billion bill that they were unable to pass.

O.F.R. noted that the federal debt is a long-term risk, but suggested that there were more immediate concerns facing the economy.

“Many households and businesses may be unable to recover absent additional government support,” the report said.

Credit…Pool photo by Leon Neal

Earlier this year, as the British government was spending billions of pounds in a rush to secure masks, gowns and other personal protective equipment for its frontline workers, it was often failing to document why it chose one vendor over another, the country’s National Audit Office said Wednesday. The hasty process led to expensive mistakes and a lack of documentation to address potential conflicts of interest.

Over all, more than 8,600 contracts worth £18 billion ($23.9 billion) were awarded by the end of July for pandemic-related expenses, with 80 percent of the contracts for personal protective equipment. The report comes amid growing frustration at the escalating amount spent on private companies to help fight the pandemic, and concerns about conflicts of interest by leaders in the government’s pandemic-response teams.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Wednesday defended the government’s actions, telling lawmakers that at the start of the pandemic there wasn’t adequate personal protective equipment anywhere in the world. “Facing a very difficult situation,” he said, the government secured 32 billion masks, gowns and other items. He was responding to a question about reports of $28 million in taxpayer money going to a Spanish businessman who acted as a middleman in contracts to secure P.P.E. for Britain’s National Health Service.

The audit report said there was “a lack of transparency and adequate documentation” into important decisions, including why certain suppliers were chosen and how the government sought to identify and avoid conflicts of interest when it awarded contracts.

More than half of the £17.3 billion in new contracts were awarded without a competitive process. And suppliers that were referred by government officials and ministers were given “high priority.”

“While we recognize that these were exceptional circumstances, it remains essential that decisions are properly documented and made transparent if government is to maintain public trust,” Gareth Davies, head of the audit office, said in a statement.

The report also highlighted examples of speedy procurement leading to mistakes, including the purchase of 50 million masks for £155 million that fell short of the government’s specifications.

The National Audit Office said that should there again be a need to quickly procure a large volume of goods, the government would need to address potential conflicts of interest earlier in the process.

Credit…Sara Stathas for The New York Times

First, the parts of the economy that were smacked hardest and earliest by job losses were ones where women dominate — restaurants, retail businesses and health care.

Then, a second wave began taking out local and state government jobs, another area where women outnumber men.

The third blow has, for many, been the knockout: the closing of child care centers and the shift to remote schooling. That has saddled working mothers, much more than fathers, with overwhelming household responsibilities.

It is a rare and ruinous one-two-three punch that’s not just pushing women out of jobs they held, but also preventing many from seeking new ones, The New York Times’s Patricia Cohen reports. For an individual, it could limit prospects and earnings over a lifetime. Across a nation, it could stunt growth, robbing the economy of educated, experienced and dedicated workers.

  • The latest jobs report from the Labor Department showed that there were 4.5 million fewer women employed in October than there were a year ago, compared with 4.1 million men.

  • According to the Census Bureau, a third of the working women 25 to 44 years old who are unemployed said the reason was child care demands. Only 12 percent of unemployed men cited those demands.

  • The burdens of the pandemic-induced recession have fallen most heavily on low-income and minority women and single mothers. The jobless rate is 9.2 percent for Black women and 9 percent for Hispanic women, compared with 6.5 percent for women over all.

  • Changes forced on women by the pandemic elicit a mixture of anxiety and hope. Many women worry that the changes will sharply narrow women’s choices and push them unwillingly into the unpaid role of full-time homemaker.

Jerome H. Powell, the Federal Reserve chair, underscored the impact during a webcast event on Tuesday. Citing the departure of women from the work force in “big numbers now as children stay home,” he added, “You could see women who not by preference, but by requirement, are at home, and their careers may be hurt.”

  • Stocks drifted from gains to losses on Wenesday, as hopes for a coronavirus vaccine vied with continuing worries about the spread of the pandemic.

  • Optimism about effective vaccine trials has helped lift the S&P 500 index by more than 10 percent this month, its best showing since April. On Wednesday, Pfizer said that complete results from a late-stage trial showed its vaccine was 95 percent effective with no serious side effects. The company and its partner BioNTech plan to apply to the Food and Drug Administration for emergency authorization “within days.”

  • But exuberance about vaccines has more recently been tempered by the number of coronavirus cases climbing to records in the United States. There have also been announcements of new shutdowns in other parts of the world, including Sweden and Australia, months before the vaccines will be widely available.

  • On Tuesday, Jerome H. Powell, the chair of the Federal Reserve, cautioned that although progress toward a vaccine is good news for the medium term, it is too soon to account for it with any confidence. “Even in the best case, widespread vaccination is months in the future,” Mr. Powell said, noting that there is a risk “people will lose confidence” and pull back from economic activity in the near term as the virus spreads and they try to avoid infection.

  • The aerospace giant Boeing on Wednesday received clearance from the Federal Aviation Administration to resume flights for its 737 Max. The plane had been grounded for 20 months following two fatal crashes that were blamed on faulty software and company and government failures. Boeing’s shares were up about 5 percent.

  • Carnival, the cruise operator, fell about 2 percent after it said it has cancelled more cruises, including those leaving from the United States through January.

  • Oil prices in Europe and the United States rose just over 1 percent. Futures of West Texas intermediate were $41.88 a barrel. Gold prices fell 0.7 percent.

  • Bitcoin, the digital currency, rose above $18,000, approaching the record it reached in late 2017 before its price crashed.

Credit…Pool photo by Hannah Mckay

Senators took the chief executives of Facebook and Twitter to task on Tuesday for how the services handled misinformation around the election, showing bipartisan support for changing a law that protects the companies from lawsuits.

In a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing that lasted more than four hours, the lawmakers forced Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook and Jack Dorsey of Twitter to defend their companies’ efforts to limit the spread of false information about voting and the election results. Republicans accused the companies of censoring conservative voices while Democrats complained about a continued surge of hate and misinformation online.

Here are the highlights from the hearing:

  • Lawmakers concentrated on how Facebook and Twitter moderate content. Both Democrats and Republicans focused on the minutiae of how Facebook and Twitter moderate the billions of pieces of content posted to their networks. Out of 127 total questions, more than half — 67 — were about content moderation.

  • Democrats called for more regulation of the tech industry. Several Democrats blamed Mr. Zuckerberg and Mr. Dorsey for a surge of hate speech and election disinformation after the election. They pointed to comments on Facebook from Steve Bannon, the former senior adviser to President Trump, who suggested beheading Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious-disease expert, and posts on Facebook groups that spread false conspiracy theories about voter fraud.

  • Mr. Zuckerberg promised to be vigilant about moderating calls for violence. “I’m very worried about this, especially any misinformation that could incite violence in such a volatile period like this,” he said.

  • Republicans homed in on bias complaints. The committee’s Republicans attacked the power that social media companies have to moderate content on their platforms, accusing them of making politically slanted calls while hiding behind the decades-old liability shield of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, the law that gives the companies legal protection for content posted by users.

  • Twitter and Facebook differed on how to handle Trump’s accounts after his presidency. Mr. Dorsey said Twitter would no longer make policy exceptions for Mr. Trump. During Mr. Trump’s time as a world leader, Twitter allowed him to post content that violated its rules, though it began adding labels to some of the tweets in May to indicate that the posts were disputed or glorified violence.

    In contrast, Mr. Zuckerberg said Facebook would not change the way it moderated Mr. Trump. Since Election Day, Facebook has labeled a few of his posts and has pointed users to accurate information about the results of the election, but it generally takes a hands-off approach.

Kellen Browning contributed reporting.

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