Facebook’s Filipino Sweatshops

The Cleaners

Directed by Hans Block and Moriz Riserwick (2018)

Film Review

This documentary concerns the atrocious working conditions of the thousands of “content moderators” who work for Filipino contractors Facebook hires to censor posts violating “community” standards. At the time of filming, Facebook had approximately 20,000 content moderators worldwide. In 2018, the Philippines site was the largest. Although local content moderators are forbidden to discuss their secretive work, some of them became so distressed about their working conditions that they leaked details of their to German filmmakers.

Back then, so-called “cleaners” were only required to delete all content related to child pornography, terrorist violence (including beheadings) and cyber bullying. As part of their training they had to memorize the names and flags of all Mideast terrorist groups. They also received explicit training in pornography and the types of sex toys.

As of 2018, the only images they reviewed were those flagged by Facebook users as objectionable. Required to review 25,000 images or videos a day (one every 8 seconds), each cleaner was only allowed three errors a month. Among content shared with filmmakers were the iconic photo of Vietnamese children in flames following a napalm attack (deleted because one child was naked), the infamous painting depicting Trump with a small penis (Facebook shut down the user’s account for demeaning the POTUS) and an image of an ISIS beheading carried out with a kitchen knife (deleted for extreme terrorist violence).

One content moderator speaks of watching a livestream of a hanging, afraid to delete the video before the act was completed because it would be counted as an error.

As the sole providers for large extended families, many Filipino content moderators are extremely reluctant to quit a good paying job. In fact, one hangs himself after three unsuccessful requests to be transferred out of his unit (which specializes in self-harm).

Public library members can view the full film free on Beamafilm.