Published Dec 02, 2018In the opening scene of Hans Block and Moritz Riesewieck's documentary The Cleaners, a social media "content moderator" in the Philippines sits behind a computer screen deleting images, videos and texts that they determine are inappropriate.
Moving through examples such as a painting of Trump with a small penis, which was removed from Facebook, to an NGO which archives videos of airstrikes and military brutality before they are taken down, The Cleaners calls attention to a precarious system of social media regulation where the ability to interact with information and art is often determined by somewhat arbitrary rules and enforcement at the hands of social media corporations.
While The Cleaners opens up conversations about ethics, censorship, social media corporations and the difficulties of regulating content, it doesn't dive too deeply into any of them, or try to provide the answers. The primary focus is on the content moderators themselves, and the psychological and emotional toll that the work takes on them. One moderator talks about her horror at having to view child pornography, while another describes videos of torture and beheadings.
Focusing on the individuals doing the moderating adds further ethical considerations, and is a uniquely human approach to subject matter that is typically treated politically. However, the insistence on getting the moderators to describe the darkest, most violent content they come across feels more like a desire to add shock value to the story, rather than complexity. The Cleaners maintains such a stylized, ominous tone throughout that it almost undermines the gravity of its own subject matter. (Gebrueder Beetz)