Documentary Reveals the Filipinos Who ‘Clean’ Facebook of Sex Abuse, Violent Content for $1 an Hour

Despite recent advancements in content algorithms and innovation in AI, social media platforms apparently still make use of the traditional means to filter filth from their feeds, a new documentary has revealed.

Dedicated teams of content moderators reportedly spend 10 hours or more per day to sift through thousands of content uploads from users to look for posts considered unsuitable for public viewing.

According to the documentary “The Cleaners” by German filmmakers Hans Block and Moritz Riesewieck, these moderators are hired by outsourcing companies to take on a challenging task of making judgments on what netizens around the world see, or do not see, on Facebook and other platforms.

They are reportedly on the lookout for graphic images of child sexual abuse, terrorist attacks and other violent acts which they are tasked to remove from the platform.

The film, which is set to be screened in Hong Kong in October, reveals the operation in the Philippines where workers are paid $1 to $3 per hour to keep social media platforms clean.

“For most of them, it’s a job they are proud of. You have to consider many people have jobs that are much less prestigious than working in such nice looking buildings in one of the best parts of Manila,” Riesewieck said in an interview via SCMP.

“The salary, compared to other jobs, is not that bad, at around $1 to $3 an hour. With this money, they can care for the whole family of five, six, or seven persons. They are the breadwinners and they are happy to get this job.”

The directors, who met with 15 to 20 content moderators in Manila, said that the adverts for these jobs do not clearly indicate what the tasks are supposed to be.

“The job descriptions do not say content moderators, but community operations analysts, or data analysts with international clients,” Riesewieck was quoted as saying.

According to Block, many of the content moderators claimed that they only realized what the actual job was during their training, which was after they had already signed a contract.

As all of them signed non-disclosure agreements, none of the interviewees revealed their names and the social media platforms they were working for.

“I am passionate about my job. I like what I am doing,” one moderator said. “As a moderator, you’re like security. You protect the user.”

Another worker revealed that he is given a daily target of 25,000 pictures to review, which he joked should qualify him in the Guinness World Records.

The film also delved into the potential mental stress the workers are subjected to due to the type of images they view daily.

The exposure to graphic images could reportedly affect the moderators’ brains to make them accustomed to violence and make it appear normal to them.

According to the South China Morning Post, Facebook vice-president of operations Ellen Silver had earlier released a statement in July addressing such concerns.

“This job is not for everyone – so to set people up for success, it’s important that we hire people who will be able to handle inevitable challenges that the role represents. Just as we look for language proficiency and cultural competency, we also screen for resiliency,” Silver said.

She noted that Facebook has a team of four clinical psychologists across three regions who are tasked with designing, delivering and evaluating resiliency programs for the moderators. Other social media platforms have yet to make a statement on the issue.

“The Cleaners” will be the closing film for the 8th Human Rights Documentary Film Festival which is set to screen seven films in total from September 26 to October 4.

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