Behind the Screen: Content Moderation in the Shadows of Social Media by Sarah T. Roberts.

Behind the Screen is an excellent book about the content moderation industry. While the book starts with more discussion of the academic research in the area of labor than needed for a popular press book (in my option), it quickly gets into the nitty-gritty of the content moderation industry, its effect on our lives and the people who do the work.

“Rather than elevating the workers of the world, twenty-first-century configurations of labor are undergoing a globalized race to the bottom in search of ever-cheaper, faster, and more human and material resources to compete in the globalized 24/7 networked marketplace. ”
-Page 72

One might assume that YouTube and Facebook employees do content moderation. However, direct employees of the technology companies do not do most content moderation. Watching and removing violent and hateful content is done by contractors or sub-contractors of contractors, many of whom are overseas. This system of contractors allows tech companies to distance themselves from any liability regarding the effect of sorting and tagging violent and sadistic videos and posts hour after hour for years on end could have on a person’s mind.

Ironically, it is the existence of sites that allow for direct upload, and streaming of content incentivizes the creation of such horrible videos.

Beyond the removal of content, many content moderation companies create content for commercial interests, steering online discussions to match the corporate message (done by humans) and using bots to amplify and re-enforce the message.

I used to think that the online world was a digitized version of the physical world. This book makes it clear that the online world is a highly curated commercial world where paid-humans and ever sophisticated bots shape and distort digital reality.

I highly recommend this book to all.

Amazon Link: