Hot Docs 2018 Review: “The Cleaners” (2018) ★★★★★


Have you ever asked yourself why do we need privacy? Honestly? How do we use the tool known as social network? Or, would we ever be ready give up our privacy for security measures that are necessary to be taken to have ourselves protected from internal and external threats to be safe and sound? Or are we okay with anything that happens to the rest of the world as long as our little comfort zone is not compromised?

Let us picture the scenery where you, me or someone else is walking down a street where garbage is all over the place. Does not feel good, does it? Its odour, dirtiness and the awful look of the street appears to disgust your mind? Now imagine how the cleaners we don’t even know their names of or how they look like feel about the mess we left after ourselves? And take a moment, my extremely thoughtful and valuable reader, to think what happens to the people that will have to monitor and moderate the content we wish to post on social network? It’s almost like walking on the street, but of the web…

If we do nothing wrong and share no harmful content, same as garbage-free streets, there will be no need for the cleaners to use their “delete” button to have our check and balance intact. But if we decide to do so, imagine the impact on the cleaners of social network called nicely as “content moderators”, while I prefer calling them ninja turtles hiding in the dark and waiting for their turn to protect us, good guys from bad ones. Sounds fascinating, isn’t it? But it’s not as you might think and soon you will find out as soon as you start watching a deeply disturbing but powerful and painfully relevant documentary film “The Cleaners” directed by Hans Block and Moritz Riesewieck.

“The Cleaners” follows the world where the big group of people known as content moderators are removing questionable contents from social networks. As they navigate through ready-to-be-uploaded video, moderators must preview it first, analyze, identify whether if there’s terrorism in it, killing, child pornography or anything that violates the rule of that platform. If the decision made is against that content, it will be deleted before it gets published.

It was not that easy to watch “The Cleaners”. In fact, it took me three days to finish it, and even more to process. But at the end of the day there is nothing logical I could come up with to explain why we human beings do what we do, and why other animals don’t exercise that vicious violence against their own species. In the end, how much Facebook, Twitter or Reddit can do to stop us from progressing? And when I am saying progressing, it does not necessarily mean in a good way. No matter how advanced the algorithm is and how intelligent the computer can be, it can never beat the human factor, what drives us to be who we are, and stop is from doing what’s being captured in “The Cleaners.”

As soon as the film begins, it introduces us the impressive statistics of how many video footages are being uploaded to Youtube, 450,000 tweets that appear on Twitter every day, and 2.5 million posts that are made on Facebook.  But it reminds that not everything goes up due to the content moderators who should decide what needs to go and what needs to stay. One of the content moderators explains who wishes to not identify himself in the film due to the nature of his job: “Our task is to monitor and moderate the user based content. I help people. I stop the spreading of child exploitation. I have to identify terrorism. Have to stop the cyber bullying and to ensure nothing suspicious is uploaded online.” In the end, it all comes to one point, the target of those moderators are the users that broke the rule of applications, which are scarily way too many than we can realize.

In conclusion, there’s something interesting about this film that everyone should learn about. It’s emotional, talkative, educational and so thorough that I could not believe my own eyes. The way it captures the dark side of humanity is unique and eye opening. While at the end of the day it will raise the question about privacy and the contents the user seemingly have access to and do anything they want to, it will give you plenty of time to think about what kind of platform you want to have in order to spend your day? A violence free or full of disgusting videos where what one human being does to another one is something that no eyes should ever witness.

Just to conclude that, “The Cleaners” is the right film to start distinguishing between policy, privacy and the content we must allow to be shared or not. But one thing is for certain and needs to be taken action on, that we all human beings collectively must be sent to a mental facility for a thorough check up done in order to determine what is wrong with us. But I am afraid, while I remain hopeless in what direction we are headed, I still hope that our heroes, ninjas or even avengers hiding in the mask of content moderator will help us to have the environment clean and steady until we figure out something to stop violence from spreading. Until then, let’s revisit “The Cleaners” for a shock therapy that will last long enough to realize when it’s enough, it means enough!


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