Who controls what you see on the internet? “The Cleaners,” a documentary by German filmmakers Moritz Riesewieck and Hans Block, takes viewers inside a hidden industry of digital “cleaning,” in which content deemed inappropriate is deleted from the internet. Made with cooperation from ProPublica, the film follows five content managers — anonymous workers, outsourced from the Philippines by social media giants, including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube — who take on the work of viewing millions of deeply disturbing images and videos that have been flagged. A typical “cleaner” views 25,000 posts a day, deciding what to delete and what to ignore. “The Cleaners” also illuminates the challenges posed by online censorship, in which art, activism and entire conversations and perspectives can be struck from world view.
In the filmmakers’ words: “Underneath their work lie profound questions around what makes an image art or propaganda and what defines journalism. Where exactly is the point of balance for social media to be neither an unlegislated space nor a forum rife with censorship?” “The Cleaners” “struggles to come to terms with this new and disconcerting paradigm.”
ProPublica and the International Center of Photography are hosting a free screening of “The Cleaners” on Sunday, Nov. 18 at Anthology FIlm Archives. The film’s New York City premiere, the screening will be followed by a discussion with ProPublica senior reporter Jack Gillum and Amie Stepanovich, U.S. policy manager for Access Now, a nonprofit dedicated to an open and free internet. The two will explore challenging questions that “The Cleaners” raises about Silicon Valley’s control over what we see on the internet, whether social media networks can moderate their own content, and what possible solutions exist for the paradigm between making the internet safe and free speech.
Learn more about the film, and see the trailer here.