Commercial Content Moderators search social media sites for inappropriate content. (Photo: The Know Nothing Enquirer)
The Christian Cleaners of the Internet
The days of a free and open Internet are long over. Social media and participatory culture have been merged into an awkward new notion of capitalism where consumers and producers are merged together. A lot has been written on the subject, including on self-censorship in the age of social media. But how do social media sites ensure that inappropriate content isn’t shared on their platforms? The social media activities of extremist groups, such as ISIS or Neonazis in Europe, have highlighted this issue recently.
Complicated algorithms filter out potential inappropriate content. However, computers cannot determine whether, for example, if naked skin is “indecent” or just some artsy photoshoot. Only humans can make this decision.
The German theatre director Moritz Riesewieck merges investigative journalism with theatre performance to uncover the work of the “cleaners” of the Internet in the Philippines. The issue is nothing new. Sarah T. Roberts has researched extensively on Commercial Content Moderation (CCM). Adrian Chen wrote a comprehensive article on this for the Wired magazine. The work of CCM has been outsourced to low-income countries, such as China, the Philippines, India and Ghana. However, the Philippines seems to be the most popular place to employed moderators, who are hired on a freelance basis through companies, such as the call centre outsourcing company Open Access BPO. The Philippines is one of the top destinations of call center outsourcing worldwide for obvious reasons. Having a young population, the Philippines has a huge influx of recent college graduates with very good English skills, due to the countries’ colonial history. This, however, is quite similar to India. Yet for CCM the Philippines seems to be the favoured destination for Social Networking Sites. Riesewieck claims that cultural familiarities is the answer. Only two countries in East Asia have a majority Christian population: Timor-Leste and the Philippines. Over 93% of Filipinos are Christian; with 29% identifying as very religious. Riesewieck, who spent a considerable amount of time conducting research on the field, argues that this cannot be compared to other outsourcing industries. The labourers at the outsourcing companies don’t see this merely as a job, but as a “personal appointment”.
Unfortunately, this is only a short interview with Moritz Kiesewieck, who was funded by the Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung. He will make his results public in lecture-performances across Germany.
Chen A., The Wired (October 2014); The Laborers Who Keep Dick Pics and Beheadings Out of Your Facebook Feed
Roberts, S.T. (February 2012); Social Media's Dirty Work: Contextualising the Facebook Screening Controversy