Saturday, 21 July 2018

The Cleaners: NZIFF Review

The Cleaners: NZIFF Review

If you ever wanted a reason to delete your social accounts and reassess your life, The Cleaners is that film.

Distinctly terrifying and definitely a sign of our depressing online times, The Cleaners turns its eye on those who police Facebook and other social channels by following five content moderators who reside in the Philippines and whose job it is to moderate what is out there.

With a daily target of some 25,000 pieces of image content to hit, these drones are understandably dead behind the eyes, their lives dictated by the flickering of the computer screen, the clicking of the mouse, and the soulless utterance of the phrases "Ignore" or "Delete" like some kind of zombie line control monsters.
The Cleaners: NZIFF Review

"We're just like policemen," one of them intones as they enter a faceless building to begin a thankless task of poring over beheadings, nudity, child pornography and other deviant material posted.

What directors Hans Block and Moritz Riesewieck choose to do with this piece though is to scatter their stories (and their limited backgrounds) with those who want the material to be seen.

So a painting of a Trump picture with a small penis that went viral is approached from both sides - the moderator tonelessly reveals why it was removed and the artist who believes it's freedom of speech presents their case thousands of miles away.

What The Cleaners doesn't do is pass judgement - and maybe from time to time, it would be wise to see the decisions questioned and the higher-ups interviewed.

Certainly in cases where children's bodies are depicted washed up on the shores and where a very famous Vietnam picture is talked about being removed because of nudity and gentialia, there becomes a meatier debate to be had - but the directors don't seem to want to dive into it, which is a frustration, but a sign of the depressing world we appear to now inhabit.

There's plenty of debate to be had here, and perhaps the intention is to start some kind of discordant discussion, a rumination on what the big media players are doing to stifle free speech and how content moderators can't really be the last line of defence - especially when cultural differences are the major stumbling block and a one-size-fits-all mentality just doesn't wash.

Bleak in many ways, psychologically depressing for anyone who uses social media or deals with communities, The Cleaners maybe goes a little too skin deep on the implications for free speech and lets off the moderators who strongly believe "Algorithms can't do what we do."

A sobering story of electronics and social media over-taking the world we inhabit and the morals we should hold dear, The Cleaners is perhaps one of the most terrifying portraits of 21st Century online life ever committed to the screen.

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