Every minute of every day millions of posts are uploaded to social media for its approximately 3 billion collective users to view and share. Every post that is reported has to be assessed by someone. The unfortunate job of cleaning up our social media messes is outsourced by major companies like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to third party companies in developing nations like Manila. With a target of 25000 images every day, the anonymous content moderators witness art, political satire, brutal violence, pornography, self-harm and everything in between, as these unsung guards protect us in cyberspace and take pride in ensuring the safety of online platforms. The Cleaners looks at the role major corporations and social media platforms play in regulating content, the responsibility they have to ensure the appropriate use of their site, and the affects on moderators of viewing thousands of examples of humanity’s worst aspects every day.
“The world should know we are here.”
The Cleaners is directed by Moritz Riesewieck and Hans Block. Shot primarily in a chilling noir style, this documentary is both compelling and disturbing, capturing moments of honest humanity as it looks at how we experience and share the world around us. The Cleaners is well-shot, removing the narrative voice, and incorporating stunning close-ups and visuals to create a somewhat detached atmosphere.
The film cleverly shows both the origin of content, the creators’ incredulity at their works’ removal, and the analysis of the content under the moderators’ standards. The job of content moderator has not before been investigated on the big screen, and has been given little thought by social media users. As stated in the film, social media is essentially “an environment tuned to offer us the worst of ourselves.” Once again, we see Western nations outsourcing evil and onus, often at a high and deadly price to the moderators and content subjects. The Cleaners casts a light on the “out of sight, out of mind” workers, upholding our moral and political values to the sacrifice of their own sensibilities and happiness. For the Filipinos seeking a well-paying job and ticket out of the slums, the responsibility of moderator is a difficult one, putting them in touch with the most base humans acts and desires.
In tumultuous times of unrest and increasing use of social media for political gain, these moderators hold the power of censorship, walking the fine line between what poses a threat to democracy and what critiques social issues. When does a post of opinion become a social danger that could ignite war and engender violence? The Cleaners investigates both sides of the debate between freedom of expression and protection of society, the innocent and the unfairly persecuted.
Saddening but intelligent, The Cleaners is an important must-see documentary.
I rate this film 8/10.
The Revelation Perth International Film Festival kicks off from Thursday 5th July. The Cleaners is playing at Luna Leederville on Sunday 8th, Saturday 14th and Wednesday 18th of July. Click here for more information and tickets.