Imagine going to work every day and reviewing the horrors of the internet. This is a reality for many people in Asian cities, such as Manila, where people are hired to review the content posted to social media and other sites on the internet. These people are known as Content Moderators, often referred to as ‘cleaners’, and they must make the call to ignore or delete questionable content posted to social media.
The Cleaners is a confronting feature documentary that explores the lives of these content moderators, from the work they do and the impact of seeing these horrors takes on their lives. That’s also not to mention the pressure they feel, as one small mistake could have drastic consequences. It also looks at several different well-known cases of review from the past, such as American artist Illma Gore and her nude painting of Donald Trump which went viral but was ultimately removed from Facebook due to its nudity. The same thing happened to another artists and photographer, Khaled Barakeh, when he posted some confronting photos of drowned immigrant children. In the film we see his solution for this censorship and the story behind his posts.
Another example that stood out was Nicole Wong, former Policy Maker at Google and Twitter, explaining the decision to leave up the Saddam Hussein execution video on YouTube for historic value, but the removal of another video that showed the body after the execution.
Further on in the documentary the film takes a look at Facebook and their news algorithm, but also the geo-blocking that is used in many countries that want to suppress government criticism. If they don’t perform these kinds of blocking activities the country will just block the entire platform. This happened for YouTube in Turkey.
The Cleaners is an in depth, eye-opening look at the content that is posted to social media, the impact of this content and the effect that it can have on not just the viewers, but also countries and political climates around the world. If you have an interest in what goes on behind social media, definitely watch this film. But be warned, it contains strong and graphic images that aren’t for the faint-hearted.