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The Internet’s Invisible Cleanup Crew

Jacobin – Review of Behind the Screen: Content Moderation in the Shadows of Social Media, by Sarah T. Roberts (Yale University Press, 2019). “Commercial content moderation, or CCM, describes one of the dirtier jobs on the corporate internet: reviewing and removing violent, racist, and disturbing content posted to social media sites like Facebook and YouTube and in the comments sections of brand-aware websites for consumer products. Such dirty work falls to people like these three cast-iron office workers who do that digital piecework just steps away from the [Eastwood Mall in Quezon City, Philippines]…”

“A hidden army of tens of thousands of content moderators is at work every day — in often appalling conditions — to make the internet as we know it habitable. We should hold Silicon Valley responsible.The business process outsourcing (BPO) industry, which includes commercial content moderators, is one of the fastest growing in the Philippines…Fast forward to the contemporary internet, and content moderation looks somewhat different. No longer the domain of community participants whose identity is known by all, mods are invisible, the fact of moderation, says Roberts, almost secret. Roberts attends to this secrecy in her book, using pseudonyms for informants and some of the companies they work for, mindful of the corporate secrecy that puts these workers at risk. Responsibility for upholding community norms online is carried out by workers in order to enhance the profit of the large-scale social-media companies they work for. The rules of engagement are subject to non-disclosure agreements, moderators work from cubicles and call centers, and the job is no longer a labor of community love, but just another low-paid contingent job from Quezon City to Silicon Valley…”

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