All of these are serious threats to social media. And we know that social media giants like Facebook censor offending content. But unless you watch ‘The Cleaners’ you have no idea of how big this problem really is.
Facebooks membership alone exceeds the population of any single country on Earth. But despite their size social media networks face serious threats. Facebook, Twitter and Google are great when solving technical solutions to reach out to as many people as possible.
But they have not addressed the enormous responsibility that comes with the new global digital family. Instead they decided to keep the darker side of the Internet hidden from you.
The documentary ‘The Cleaners’ (IMDB, 2018), (IFFR, 2018) shows how social media giants deploy thousands of content moderators in the Philippines. Their task: to delete content that does not comply with their guidelines. The film claims that on average one moderator is tasked to delete 25.000 pictures and videos a day.
Censored content includes child pornography, violence and suicides. Sometimes even streamed live. The film raises difficult ethical questions: are SNS the appropriate body to censor content in this way? Or should this be done by our governments? What kind of content should be censored? And who decides that?
We learn in the film that one moderator killed himself because he could no longer bear the emotional stress of reviewing violence, death and abuse thousands of times a day.
Pew research experts are evenly split on whether the problem will improve or get worse in the future. Critics say that social media systems amplify the worst of mankind and that this is polarising society. They say that “the dark side of human nature is aided more than stifled by technology” (Pew Research Center, 2017).
My view on this differs. Social media systems only show us who and what we really are. On social media we are confronted with the best – and the worst of us. Censoring offending content might solve the problem in the short term. But it is not Facebook posting disturbing content. We do. And sometimes disturbing content is also needed to achieve social change.
Moderators review 25,000 images and videos per day. They are given on average just 1 second to make difficult censorship decisions. One idea could be to classify disturbing content and make it available on special sites. This way moderators and users can discuss these images. Only extreme content should be deleted.
Discussing controversial content might even encourage us to do what we really should be doing: fight war, abolish poverty and create a more equal society. Then we solve the problem in the long term.
We need to demand more action from our governments to deliver peace and equality in the real world. Only then we will see less bullying, violence and pornography on social networks.