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film review

When The Cleaners debuted at Sundance, censorship farms were largely secret, but Facebook has started to bow to public pressure and open up some of the process.

  • The Cleaners
  • Directed by: Hans Block and Moritz Riesewieck
  • Rated: 14A
  • Running time: 88 minutes

Rating:

3 out of 4 stars

People are terrible, and so they are terrible when they are online, posting appalling stuff on social media: death threats, hate speech, beheadings, child pornography. And, just as in real life, most of us don’t seem to care about how the garbage gets cleaned up, as long as we don’t have to do it. On Facebook, as new directors Block and Riesewieck discover, that means hundreds of poorly paid Filipinos racing through up to 25,000 images in a single shift, given mere seconds to decide if they should delete or ignore certain pieces of content. Psychological support for the workers is all but nonexistent: They become numb to the horrors they witness, suffer PTSD and, sometimes, take their own lives. Meanwhile, their actions can have a numbing effect on political discourse half a world away if they opt to remove content they don’t fully comprehend. (Say, rudely satirical drawings of Donald Trump or Turkish President Recep Erdogan.) Choosing to leave up content they don’t understand can have deadly consequences: Facebook was used to inflame the Rohingya genocide in Myanmar. When this brisk, disquieting doc debuted at Sundance, these censorship farms were largely secret, but Facebook has started to bow to public pressure and open up some of the process. The troubling questions remain.