Rev contractors say they had to transcribe sexual assault and sensitive audio regarding children without receiving a warning


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  • Multiple contractors for Rev, the transcription startup, told Business Insider they listened to sensitive audio files regarding child sex victim, sexual assault recollections, and a legal case involving a child without receiving a warning beforehand. 
  • Rev contractors get one hour to give up files, but the transcriptionists said they had passed the grace period when they realized it had sensitive content. Contractors said they felt pressured to transcribe the sensitive files for fear of losing their job if they didn’t.
  • Other tech contractors, such as Facebook content moderators, have described listening to and watching sexual abuse and other violent content. These contractors are not full-time employees of the tech companies, and get paid low wages for the grueling work.
  • Click here to read our story: Contractors at controversial startup Rev say they worked long hours for little pay, feared they could lose their job at any time, and had to transcribe interviews with sexual-abuse survivors without warning

Contractors for the controversial startup Rev said they had to listen to content relating to sex and child abuse without prior warning, and felt they couldn’t decide against transcribing the audio for fear of losing their jobs.

Business Insider recently spoke with 15 independent contractors with the startup Rev, which offers clients 12-hour transcription turnarounds for just $1 a minute. The contractors described a cutthroat culture where they compete for good quality audio, rushing to decisions on whether to take a project or not. 

A Rev contractor from Ireland, who spoke under anonymity for fear of losing her job, told Business Insider she felt pressured to transcribe an interview with a child sex-crime victim because finding clear audio files on the site was so uncommon. She did not receive a warning label before listening to the file.

“It was incredibly tough to transcribe, but the audio was clear so I wanted to keep it, because clear audio is so rare in Rev,” the contractor said.

“There was no warning, just that the topic was legal,” she said. “I had lost my hour grace period to reject the job by the time I’d reached the sensitive content, so if I’d sent the job back I’d be at risk of losing my job with Rev.”

Of the contractors Business Insider spoke to, none of them recalled seeing a trigger warning over sensitive content. Rev could not confirm or deny whether it screens audio before submission, or whether it rejects bad-quality or inappropriate audio files. 

“I think it makes sense if you value workers to let the workers know if there’s going to be things that are hazardous for them,” said Rev contractor Andrea K., who told Business Insider she never saw a content warning on the site.

Rev transcriptionists aren’t the only tech contractors that describe having to sift through potentially triggering content. Facebook content moderators, who review posts reported for violating the company’s community standards, described watching murder videos, child pornography, and fringe conspiracy theories. 

Read more: Contractors at controversial startup Rev say they worked long hours for little pay, feared they could lose their job at any time, and had to transcribe interviews with sexual-abuse survivors without warning

Rev, which has raised $5 million in VC funding since 2010 according to Pitchbook, employs just 140 full-time workers, but contracts more than 40,000 transcriptionists. Contractors say they work long hours to make less money than advertised, due to the effort taken to parse together bad-quality audio and research complex topics.

At Facebook, employees make a median salary of $240,000, while moderators employed by outside companies told The Verge they get paid less than $29,000.

As audio files get sent into Rev, the most experienced transcriptionists get first picks, according to contractors. They typically take longer files with clear audio, or “Rush” orders that pay more for quicker turnaround. Rookie transcriptionists describe sifting through bad-quality audio and attempting to find a usable file in seconds, before another contractor takes it.

Rev contractors do say they have a one-hour long grace period to unclaim files, but two contractors said they did not realize the files had sensitive content within the time-period. Sloan, a contractor from Canada, said she once unclaimed a file after hearing “bigoted” content.

Unclaiming a file after the grace period penalizes contractors, which could result in getting booted from the site.

Another Rev contractor from South Carolina said she also transcribed a sexual-assault recollection that wasn’t upsetting for her, but she felt there should have been a trigger warning for people with PTSD. She did, though, feel uncomfortable transcribing a legal case involving a child with sensitive content that she did not go into detail about. 

She only found out the case involved sensitive content after the grace period, and did not want to risk losing her job by giving up the file.

“I know some people who have talked about working there for a very long time and they had a bad week and they’re out of a job,” the contractor told Business Insider. “I didn’t realize how bad it was until I was hired on at [another company].”

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Read Business Insider’s full investigation of how Rev treats its freelance transcriptionists and captionists »

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