The nature of social sharing platforms allows the most twisted and inhumane facets of society to be exposed online. When disturbing, explicit images and videos are reported on social media, how are they removed? It isn’t an automated system or algorithm that sifts through the posts*, but under-paid social media content moderators that view and judge whether the content should remain or be deleted.
The Cleaners centres around the social media digital cleaning industry, predominantly from Facebook, Instagram and YouTube. These platforms have outsourced reported content to commercial content moderators in the Philippines who are exposed to violent, pornographic and distressing content. The content can spread like wildfire if it is shared and viewed by enough people, and it is up to the moderators to intervene.
With a quota of viewing 25,000 images and videos per ten-hour shift, the employees are under an immense amount of pressure to accurately decide upon the future of these posts.
The film details how the moderators discern the appropriateness of the content and the process of preventing this widespread growth of offending material. It also addresses the profound psychological ramifications on the employees who witness such a high concentration of distressing imagery.
The compelling cityscape of twilight Manila contrast with the slums where the workers live, following the workers from the inner city into their homes. These shots in the film encompass the motivation as to why they continue working in such a high-stakes environment: as a compliant daughter, a providing son, and a doting new father.
Although the documentary has the content moderators as the core subject, The Cleaners has a broad international scope. The film contains interviews ranging from the former head lawyer of Google responsible for censorship matters, to artists whose powerful work had been deleted, as well as the opinions of social media, political and free speech experts.
This well-balanced, engrossing documentary is in equal parts fascinating and disturbing, with many moments that will make the audience want to look away. Despite this, The Cleaners is truly an eye-opening account of how the ability to share anything can unveil the true barbarity amongst humanity, and those who are responsible for making sure we don’t see it.
4.5 out of 5 stars
*With the exception of Twitter