Facebook outsources Internet censorship to unskilled underpaid Filipinos


This 16 April 2018 video is the trailer of the film The Cleaners, by Hans Block and Moritz Riesewieck.

This 26 May 2018 video from Germany says about itself:

In this documentary preview, filmmakers Hans Block and Moritz Riesewieck will present their film THE CLEANERS – Die Digitale Müllabfuhr. THE CLEANERS is a journey into the underground industries of Manila, right at the centre of digital censorship – where the Internet must be “cleansed” of controversial contents. Who controls what we see and what we think?

Translated from an interview with film maker Hans Block in Dutch TV guide VARA Gids, 8-14 September 2018, pp. 18-19:

[The social media corporations don’t talk about who does the censorship work. About how difficult it was for the film makers to talk to the unskilled underpaid Filipino censorship workers:] They are scared, they have signed secrecy contracts. If they do talk, then they get big fines. At one company, even a prison term. …

I think the biggest scandal is the contrast between the influence of the ‘cleaners’ and their work situation. First, these are young people with limited possibilities. They are about 20, usually have never left Manila, they don’t have much education, usually don’t read papers every day, and have views sometimes very different from, eg, Europeans or Americans.

Interviewer: In the film, an ex-‘cleaner’ as an example judges a cartoon by Dutch cartoonist Ruben Oppenheimer. In the cartoon, Turkish President Erdogan penetrates the blue Twitter bird from behind [about Erdogan’s censorship of Twitter]. The cleaner follows the instructions which he got and judges: sexual act, bestiality, so: delete. How can you let a boy at the other side of the world judge about political satire about Turkey?

Hans Block: Exactly. Also, that is my second point: he has very little time for it. Within five or six seconds the cleaners have to decide whether to delete or ignore the content. Because only then they fulfill their production quota; sometimes 25,000 images in a ten-hour night shift. … We [rich countries] used to dump our analogous thrash in the Philippines, now our digital shit as well. …

Interviewer: In Berlin there is a Facebook ‘cleaning’ factory as well. Are circumstances there any better?

Hans Block: Not really. They get three to five days training before their work starts. … I think that Facebook uses that Berlin branch especially for show to the outside world, to show that everything is hunky dory. The bulk of the work, also of YouTube, Twitter and Google by the way, is in Manila.

This 5 May 2018 Canadian TV video says about itself:

‘The Cleaners’ Who Scrub Social Media

Social media platforms say they want to scrub fake news and inappropriate content off their platforms. Find out who’s doing some of the work of actually cleaning it up.

This 9 May 2018 video from the Netherlands says about itself:

Q&A about Facebook secrets with ‘The Cleaners’ director Hans Block

A fantastic, exciting and very topical film about how social media is destroying the world. Two young German filmmakers manage to gain access to one of the better guarded secrets of Facebook.

It is the beginning of a documentary as a thriller, which digs deeper and deeper into the back of the social media and shows how it distorts and affects our world. Directors Hans Block and Moritz Riesewieck know how to gain access to the people who have the ungrateful task of determining what may or may not be posted on Facebook.

The whole world is scanned from an anonymous office building in the Philippines. Often without any knowledge of different cultures, history, politics or sex, the cleaners try to apply the protocols as well as possible. For the first time we gain insight into why certain images may or may not be seen. But also how the algorithms used push outrage.

Slowly it becomes clear how Facebook has become a kind of modern version of George Orwell’s 1984. Especially in countries where internet is synonymous with Facebook, the consequences are devastating.

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23 thoughts on “Facebook outsources Internet censorship to unskilled underpaid Filipinos

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