Work. These Pakistani content moderators who dream of a career change

They have degrees in engineering, environmental science or business management and have aspired to a career in the world of technology. Due to the lack of professional perspective in their country, they had to become content moderators. A job they now dream of escaping.

This is a bleak picture painted by technology site Rest of the World, which tells the daily story of the job of a content moderator in Pakistan.

Popularized during the pandemic, at a time when “all other opportunities to work in tech seemed limited,” content moderation is an increasingly important job in the country. In 2023, TikTok announced that it had deleted more than 9 million messages written by Pakistani users, 5 million more than in 2021.

Sweatshop workshop

In 2020, Chinese platforms such as TikTok or Bigo Live launched campaigns to hire moderators, who wanted to “hire locally” to “appease” the Pakistani government, which “accused them of circulating 'obscene' content and 'illegal'”, says the Rest of the World. As of 2021, TikTok has already employed nearly 500 moderators in Pakistan, according to the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority.

Many chose this profession temporarily, due to the lack of choices on the labor market. With a rate of 1,200 video views per day, they now say they are exhausted and tired of the work that is often compared to a “sweatshop”, the site assures.

They are often unable to quit, because the said profession is largely “stigmatized” in the technology industry and “acquired skills cannot be reused in another workplace,” Rest of the World emphasizes.

Furthermore, this work is poorly monitored at the state level. “The rights of workers in content moderation are barely addressed in Pakistan,” laments Shmyla Khan, a digital rights researcher. While successive Pakistani governments have often focused on the country's “digital economy” to make the profession attractive to young workers, there is no real follow-through, she concludes.

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