THE CLEANERS, the new doc that premiered to sold-out performances at this year;s Hot Docs brings the audience into the hidden third world shadow industry of digital cleaning, where the internet rids itself of what it doesn’t like.
The new documentary THE CLEANERS unashamedly touts the all importance of ‘cleaners’ at the very start of the film. Words (titles) on screen emphasize the millions of tweets, posts on youtube and the millions of people connected on social media going to say how much the internet would be a mess without THE CLEANERS. The Cleaners delete images, videos and texts that violate the rules of social media. his is none from, (surprise! surprise!) none other than Manila in the Philippines. It is revealed that there are other smaller centres too, given this dauntless task, but Manila is the main one. “Delete, ignore,” these are the words often spoken by the workers (in a Filipino accent) as they work their jobs.
Yes, the film has got the audience’s attention. The question then would be whether the doc would be able to keep it a compelling watch from start to end.
The film introduces five “digital scavengers” among thousands of people outsourced from Silicon Valley whose job it is to delete “inappropriate” content off the net. In a parallel struggle, we meet people around the globe whose lives are dramatically affected by online censorship. A typical “cleaner” must observe and rate thousands of often deeply disturbing images and videos every day, leading to lasting psychological impacts. Yet underneath their work lies profound questions around what makes an image, art, or propaganda, and what defines journalism. Where exactly is the point of balance for social media to be neither an unlegislated space nor a forum rife with censorship. The Cleaners struggles to come to terms with this new and disconcerting paradigm.
The high executives of the high-tech companies like Facebook appear sincere in doing what is right – to seem out inappropriate content that will promote hatred and ignorance But it is an impossible task. The film goes deep in the last third to demonstrate how hatred is promoted through Facebook against the most prosecuted minorities (The Rohinghas in Burma) in the world.
The film is even more shocking when it shows glimpses of a few of these deleted images. The directors cannot resist sensationalization from their film. There is a disturbing segment which shows an image of a beheading done with a dull knife (like kitchen knife) resulting in a crooked cut with lots of blood.
The film lacks a proper conclusion for the reason that problems presented in the film have no clear resolution. Promises by the high tech giant executives are difficult to keep despite good intentions. One thing the film clearly shows is the evil that reside inside human beings. The question still remains that social media like Twitter, Facebook, Youtube will continue to exist despite uncontrollability. But accountability has at least reared its ugly head.