A documentary film by Hans Block & Moritz Riesewieck
Every day, millions and millions of images are posted on the web. Not all of them stay there. Who controls what we are seeing – and what is removed? "The Cleaners" enters hidden shadow industry of digital cleaning, where the Internet rids itself of what it doesn‘t like.
At their inception, social media networks claimed to create a global community not limited by geographical or economic boundaries. More recently, however, they have faced a sinister challenge to this ideal: hate speech, fake news, terrorist propaganda. To censor controversial content, political institutions have established laws and guidelines. Yet Silicon Valley has its own rules: content moderators who curate the material posted on companies’ sites. The global headquarter for content moderation is outsourced to the city of Manila. Here, thousands of people are hired to secretly rate thousands of often deeply disturbing images and videos every day, often causing lasting psychological harm among them.
“The Cleaners” follows five of these "digital scavengers", questioning how terms like “suitability” and “appropriate content” are evaluated within shiny Philippine skyscrapers surrounded by garbage dumps. In a parallel struggle, we meet people around the globe whose lives are dramatically affected by online censorship. Interviews with former Facebook manager Antonio Garcia, former Google Vice President Nicole Wong, or former Google Design Ethicist Tristan Harris, among others, highlight the inner mechanics of the platforms that fuel outrage by design.
The documentary premiered 2018 at the Sundance Festival (US) and has since won numerous awards, including at the Moscow Film Festival and the International Film Festival and Forum on Human Rights, as well as winning the Prix Europa and the Grimme-Preis 2019.