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Storyline (warning: spoilers)
A thoroughly unnerving picture of our times, this gripping doco immerses us in the surreal world of the content moderators who decide what we see (or don’t see) on social media. Ever wondered who polices Facebook? This rattling documentary should make for illuminating viewing. The Cleaners introduces us to five content moderators, all based in the Philippines, whose services are contracted to social media giants like Facebook, Twitter and Google.
Every day, these ‘cleaners’ scan through thousands of images and videos that have been flagged as ‘objectionable’. There’s an obvious toll to sweeping our feeds for sinister material. As the subjects present us with their harrowing testimony, it quickly becomes clear how psychologically ill-equipped anyone would be for the violence and pornography they wade through daily.
That’s not even taking into account the cultural disparities that complicate their decisions, an issue which artist Illma Gore’s banned portrait of Trump (with his iconic micro-penis) deftly illustrates. There are myriad implications for free speech and democracy here, but crucially the filmmakers follow through on them, broadening their portrait into an urgent exploration of the perils of the digital age.
The Cleaners packs a devastating wallop… [It covers] what the directors clearly see as a real-time global catastrophe – a situation where tech companies are so eager to grow, expand, and monetize that they fail to recognize the ways their platforms are fomenting hate, discord, and violence. The film paints such a bleak picture that it’s hard to not walk away with the feeling that we should all immediately delete our Twitter and Facebook accounts – not out of protest, but out of sheer self-preservation.