7,000 miles from Silicon Valley in downtown Manila, a secret team of content moderators have a target of 25,000 Facebook, Google and Twitter posts to delete each day. Trawling through the world’s most violent, disturbing and highly contentious online material – in the form of terrorist videos, child pornography, self-harm material and political propaganda – ‘the cleaners’ are individually responsible for deciding what stays online and what gets removed. This film explores the hidden and complex world of digital content moderation where undesirable material is ‘cleaned’ from the internet by a hidden army of nameless people.
The Cleaners raises important questions for all of us who use these platforms daily without knowing what goes on behind the scenes: Who are these people that ‘clean up’ social media and what criteria do they operate by? Where does content moderation end and censorship begin? And what happens when their split-second decisions affect the lives of people in political hotspots like Myanmar or Istanbul?