OpenAI, the company behind ChatGPT, paid Kenyan workers less than $2 an hour to filter through tens of thousands of lines of horrific text to help make its chatbot safer to use.
According to a Time investigation published on Wednesday, the workers were given the task to label and filter out toxic data from the ChatGPT’s training dataset and were forced to read graphic details of NSFW content such as child sexual abuse, bestiality, murder, suicide, torture, self-harm, and incest, Time reported.
ChatGPT has been soaring in popularity since the machine learning-powered chatbot was launched by OpenAI last year. In order to achieve this success, OpenAI hired Kenyans to sift through its often-produced sexist, violent, and racist text because the model was trained on a dataset that was scraped from billions of internet pages and filter out all of the toxic languages from its dataset, fast.
OpenAI partnered with Sama, a data labeling partner based in San Francisco that claims to provide developing countries with “ethical” and “dignified digital work,” to detect and label toxic content that could be fed as data into a filtering tool for ChatGPT. Sama recruited data labelers in Kenya to work on behalf of OpenAI, playing an essential role in making the chatbot safe for public usage.
Sama just recently closed down the content moderation business, the company last year, together with Meta were sued in Kenya over claims of exploitation and union busting, and just weeks after another lawsuit was filed in Kenya’s High Court over its alleged role in fueling violence and hate in eastern and southern Africa. The recent lawsuit claimed that Meta had failed to employ enough safety measures on Facebook, which has in turn fueled conflict that has led to deaths, including the deaths of 500,000 Ethiopians during the recently ended Tigray War.
One Kenyan worker responsible for reading and labeling text for OpenAI told TIME that “he suffered from recurring visions after reading a graphic description of a man having sex with a dog in the presence of a young child.” The workers took home wages between $1.32 and $2 an hour, based on seniority and performance.
“That was torture,” the Sama worker said. “You will read a number of statements like that all through the week. By the time it gets to Friday, you are disturbed from thinking through that picture.”
Sama canceled its work for OpenAI in February 2022, eight months earlier than the contracted period, in part because of the traumatic nature of the work, and in part because Time had published an investigative report about Sama’s work with Meta on February 14.