The Cleaners

Content moderators are the world’s defacto censors.

Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, and Instagram have bigger populations than any country or state. Their editorial rules and standards moderate how the world communicates.

But who scrubs the Internet of all the dirt that shouldn’t be there?

The answer lies mostly in the Philippines, where tens of thousands of content moderators flip through 25k images per shift,deciding which to allow, and which to delete. Algorithms can’t scan a picture for what’s appropriate; that’s still a human judgement call. They stop child exploitation, cyber bullying, and terrorism. And, depending on the platform, they may stop a breastfeeding mother from sharing a picture of her son eating or an artist from sharing her painting of Donald Trump and his teeny tiny penis. Though this big business employs many, the content operators must do their work anonymously, for fear of corruption and reprisals. This work goes unseen, unrecognized, and for many of us, unconsidered. When you post an image, do you picture the person tasked with sorting through them? Someone on the other side of the world, unfamiliar with our politics and context – unfamiliar, until their training, with butt plugs and ISIS.

This documentary was fascinating to me because though it directly affects me, and how I navigate and experience the internet, I’ve never spared more than a thought toward these hard working people. It inspired me to imagine what kinds of images and videos they’re forced to watch: none of the flagged images are good, but which are acceptable and which are not, which are morally wrong, which are illegal, which will scar you for life? Because these people have SEEN SOME SHIT. 25 thousand images per day. Think about that. Think about how many beheading videos they’ve witnessed, how many torture videos. Or how much child pornography. For lots of us, even one image is too many. What does it do to your brain – your soul – to see image after image, and to be in charge of keeping the rest of them safe from them?

This documentary asks so little of us – only that we acknowledge that these people exist, and they’ve made our lives easier. But perhaps a thought or two should be spared for these new giants of social media who are deciding our values and attitudes for us; not merely hosting what we share, but shaping it and curating it. It’s dangerous work.

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15 thoughts on “The Cleaners

  1. Isey

    So fascinating! I can’t even imagine looking forward to seeing this.

    And I’d love to sit in one of those chairs just for a day – although I doubt it would improve the current view on humanity.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. Jay Post author

      I doubt it’s healthy to do for even one day at that image rate, and those kinds of pictures, but they stay well beyond what they should because of money, and contracts.

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      Reply
  2. D. Wallace Peach

    I remember seeing a news program about this and the vicarious trauma that some of these content cleaners experience. I don’t think I could do it. I can’t even watch Fox News without losing my mind to depression or rage. You’re right that these people deserve our thanks and respect.

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    Reply
    1. Jay Post author

      I definitely couldn’t do it and certainly would not want to. I couldn’t bear to see a child endangered, or worse. Which is weird because as a counselor I hear stuff like that and more on a daily basis, and experience my own vicarious trauma.

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply
      1. D. Wallace Peach

        I too was a child counselor and I can relate to the vicarious trauma. At least as counselors, we have opportunities to help. Looking at those images and knowing that there’s nothing that can be done must be horrendous. 😦

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