This is What Happens When You Report Something Online

Words by Micah Avry Guiao

“Every minute, 500 hours of video are uploaded on YouTube, 450,000 tweets are released on Twitter, and 2.5 million posts are made on Facebook. But everything that goes up doesn’t always stay up.”

Ever wonder what happens when you report something online?

Most of us would assume a computer algorithm would do the job–but that’s not always the case. In fact, behind the reported posts are thousands of content moderators who decide whether or not to have the post taken down.

Terrorism, self-harm, animal cruelty, and child pornography–these are just of the most gruesome material that have been squeezing their way in and making themselves known through popular social media websites. All these are things content moderators have to sit through and watch.

Once a post is subject for consideration, it is up to them to either “ignore” or “delete” it. The former when it can still be deemed safe for work; the latter when it violates community standards.

The Cleaners is a riveting documentary that explores those ethical issues at hand. German directors Hans Block and Moritz Riesewieck have met with 15 to 20 content moderators in Manila to inquire into this phenomenon.

Watch the trailer here:

What is particularly alarming is that most content moderators don’t really know what they are getting into. Riesewieck revealed that advertisements were looking to hire “community operation analysts.” It is said that the realization comes only after the contract has been signed and the training has begun.

“So they were sitting in front of the screen watching, for example, pornography or a child abuse video. They don’t have a chance to exit because they have already signed a contract,” Block said.

“For most of them, it’s a job they are proud of,” Riesewieck said in an interview with the SCMP. “The salary, compared to other jobs, is not that bad, at around $1 to $3 an hour. With this money, they can care for the whole family of five, six, or seven persons. They are the breadwinners and they are happy to get this job.”

This statement is questionable, however. One commenter noted how “10 hours [of working] is P65-P28 pesos shy of NCR minimum wage per day.”

Aside from probing into the effects of this task on the workers’ state of being, The Cleaners also takes a look on the importance of content moderators like these and what is ultimately at stake for society if the job is not done.

Above is another short clip by BBC Stories where they interview content moderators in an office in Berlin. The woman speaking in the video lamented: “It is the most important job in Facebook. It’s the worst and no one cares about it.”

Truly, viewing such gut-wrenching content for ten hours a day everyday would definitely take a toll on their psychological state. Overexposure can also cause some degree of desensitization to violence.

The woman even goes as far as likening content moderators to machines–a job stripped of humanity.

The Cleaners will be the closing film for the 8th Human Rights Documentary Film Festival, an annual event organized by the Amnesty International Hong Kong, in October.

What do you think about content moderators? Should this job be put to a halt or is it a necessary evil? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.

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