God's Weeding Out Squad


Sarah T. Roberts

The panel on the topic "Commercial Content Moderation – The Internet's Garbage Disposal" began with the speaker Sarah T. Roberts from the University of Western Ontario, Canada. As a moderator for online content (CCM = Commercial Content Moderator), she's one of the internet's invisible gatekeepers. It's her job to erase certain material off of social media: violence, pornography and other content which companies such as Google, Facebook or Twitter do not want to give a platform.

Although many CCMs are confronted with horrible pictures and videos on a daily basis, they are very poorly paid, can be fired at any time and receive no psychological support. "The work is dreary, monotonous and endangers the psychological well-being of the people doing it" Roberts said. She continued: "The CCMs protect the company brand, but the companies don't talk about their CCMs and force them to sign confidentiality agreements." Roberts raises another point: The companies support political agendas: "A big Silicon Valley-based company, that you are all probably using at the moment, had nothing against content from Syrian war zones, but erased videos depicting violence in Mexico connected to the drug war."

Director Moritz Riesewieck reported on his research on a CCM company in the Philippines: "You don't get dirty from the visual trash you have to sift through, at least not that one can see. But it leaves its mark" Riesewieck said. The "digital garbage disposal", which is what he calls the CCMs, has been outsourced to the Philippines for a reason: 95 percent of the population are Catholic. Religion is being abused, says Riesewieck. "CCM, nothing of the sort. No, no. What we experienced there is god's weeding out squad."

And a solution for the problem? There haven't been any proposals yet, not even from the panel. Sarah T. Robert's website presents the goal of their research: That is, to move politics to look into the issue. Moritz Riesewieck doesn't have any concrete alternatives on offer: When the taz newspaper confronted him with the fact that someone has to filter through all the garbage on the web, he agreed. But, he commented, "If we're not going to be seeing the images, we should at least be looking at the reasons behind this".

Image: re:publica/Gregor Fischer (CC BY 2.0)