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Enter a hidden third world shadow industry of digital cleaning, where the Internet rids itself of what it doesn’t like: violence, pornography and political content. Here we meet five “digital scavengers” among thousands of people outsourced from Silicon Valley whose job is to delete “inappropriate” content off of the net. In a parallel struggle, we meet people around the globe whose lives are dramatically affected by online censorship. A typical “cleaner” must observe and rate thousands of often deeply disturbing images and videos every day, leading to lasting psychological impacts.
(2018) 95 min.
With the rising proliferation of false, inflammatory, and pornographic material in social media postings, this disturbing documentary by filmmakers Moritz Riesewieck and Hans Block raises the pressing question of whether the poisonous effect can be removed or at least mitigated, and if so who should lead that effort. The film takes us to Manila, where Filipino workers are engaged (through intermediary firms) by such Internet giants as Facebook and Google to scan submissions to their sites and “ignore” or “delete” them according to self-imposed rules regarding content. These workers, most from poor backgrounds, endure a daily diet of questionable postings and must make split-second decisions about whether or not to allow them, often prompted not just by company policy but also by personal beliefs, such as their Catholic faith. The pernicious effect on these “cleaners” is one of the film’s major concerns—one worker committed suicide after constantly watching grisly videos—but larger geopolitical issues are also addressed, often through interviews with former tech executives. The questions are whether powerful companies should be permitted to outsource their responsibility to police material that can incite ethnic violence against minorities or pervert democratic processes, and if broader governmental intervention is called for. The Cleaners offers no easy answers—indeed, the film suggests there might be none—but it does a useful service in addressing the extent of the problem. Recommended. Aud: C, P.
"The Cleaners is a riveting documentary about how social media might be ruining the world"
"Stylish doc exposes must-discuss issues regarding the companies who dominate the internet"
The Hollywood Reporter
"This thorough, yet conflicted globe-trotting documentary thriller meets the social media censors struggling to save the web"