“Delete. Ignore. Ignore. Delete.”
The darkness of the room is oppressive, the only source of light comes from a single computer screen. A young woman stares deadpanned as her finger clicks mechanically on the mouse. She’s playing a game of Russian roulette with pictures, her sanity on the line. It’s a reoccurring image in the movie The Cleaners, now playing at ACMI.
Countless of images and videos are uploaded onto Facebook and Twitter every single day with numbers reaching astronomical heights as more and more accounts are being created.
Out of all these, there is a certain strain of material that violates Facebook guidelines but still manages to slither into the mainframe and onto our feed. Child pornography. Beheading. Nudity. The depiction of gruesome deaths of both adults and minors. The lewd and the extreme. You name it.
“Delete. Delete. Ignore. Delete.”
They call themselves the cleaners because that’s essentially what they’re doing. They clean your Facebook and Twitter feed from the filth and gore that has no place on any mainstream site. They come from everywhere but the majority of these cleaners are situated in the Philippines. Hundreds of anonymous workers sitting behind computer screens for hours on end. Bombarded by horrific images.
“Our goal is 25,000 images a day. If we don’t reach that target. We get a warning. Three warnings and you’re out.”
A picture of a naked Trump with the Twitter bird logo over his crotch elicits laughter. Not long after, two pictures of a child, submerged in water, their bloated stomach and clenched up fist fill the screen.
An allegory was made by one of the cleaners. They see themselves as Christ-like figures, or rather, figure, with hundreds of them mobilising together as one gigantic online presence. They tell the camera that they’re cleaning the web of sin. With a click of their finger, they can erase any and all traces of anything they deem undesirable. To some, this might seem like an infringement on freedom of speech, but whilst watching the cleaners pained expression as they try to describe the time they saw of an image of a twelve-year-old girl with semen on her face, you can’t help but be thankful. We need these cleaners.
The internet is a filthy place and there needs to be someone willing to step up to do the job.
“Delete. Delete. Delete.”
The cleaners have a battle of their own. Faced with only a monitor and a single mouse, they singlehandedly decide what is deemed appropriate and inappropriate, what fits in with Facebook or Twitter’s community guidelines.
Because of course, not every single item is as offensive and horrendous as the ones mentioned above. Some are simply racially motivated- Nazi emblems, sexist imagery, political satire that goes a teensy tiny bit too far. So then complications arise when one tries to figure out: how does someone from the Philippines decide what’s offensive or not from a Western context?
There doesn’t seem to be a straightforward answer. The cleaners receive training, but only in the form of a 45-minute sensitivity education consisting of recognising Nazi and white supremacist symbols. Some would argue it’s not enough.
At the end of the day. These cleaners are people who suffer emotional trauma on a daily basis, simply as part of their job.
“Delete. Ignore. Ignore. Ignore.”
A cleaner committed suicide. His psychologist is the one to tell the camera, tears in her eyes, her voice defeated. She recounts how she desperately tried to help him, tried to flag his depression, the danger signs, but there was no one who would listen. ‘The company knew and they covered it up’, is a depressingly prevalent theme throughout the movie.
“Delete. Ignore. Delete.”
An eye-opening documentary not to be missed. Catch it at ACMI Cinemas, running from 11 October – 19 November. Rating MA+15.
Check out the trailer here: