12 user 45 critic

The Cleaners (2018)

Im Schatten der Netzwelt (original title)
A look at the shadowy underworld of the Internet where questionable content is removed.
7 wins & 9 nominations. See more awards »


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Cast overview:
Mark Zuckerberg ... Himself (archive footage)
Donald Trump ... Himself (archive footage)
Nicole Wong Nicole Wong ... Herself - Deputy Chief Technology Officer of the United States
Sarah T. Roberts Sarah T. Roberts ... Herself - Assistant Professor of Information Studies, University of California
Illma Gore Illma Gore ... Herself
Abdulwahab Tahhan Abdulwahab Tahhan ... Himself - Senior Researcher, London College of Communication
Khaled Barakeh Khaled Barakeh ... Himself - Artist and Cultural Activist
David Kaye David Kaye ... Himself
Mocha Uson Mocha Uson ... Herself
Ed Lingao Ed Lingao ... Himself - Journalist, TV5 News
Antonio García Martínez Antonio García Martínez ... Himself - Author of Book 'Chaos Monkeys'
Yaman Akdeniz Yaman Akdeniz ... Himself - Professor of Law, Istanbul Bilgi Üniversitesi
Sabo Sabo ... Himself - Hate Speech Advocate and Militant Racist
Tristan Harris Tristan Harris ... Himself - Co-Founder of The Center for Humane Technology
Nay San Lwin Nay San Lwin ... Himself - Rohingya Activist and Blogger


When you post something on the web, can you be sure it stays there? Enter a hidden shadow industry of digital cleaning where the Internet rids itself of what it doesn't like - violence, pornography and - political content. Who is controlling what we see and what we think? Written by Gebrueder Beetz Filmproduktion

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Who is controlling what we see...and what we think?




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Release Date:

17 May 2018 (Germany) See more »

Also Known As:

The Cleaners See more »

Filming Locations:

Manila, Philippines See more »


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User Reviews

Probably failing to reach intended audience for this information. Pertinent issues demonstrated very well. May leave impression on social media users open for these topics
6 September 2018 | by JvH48See all my reviews

Being an IT-consultant myself, having worked in information security for many years already, the movie did not offer many new insights, for me that is. Nevertheless, I'm always interested in any serious attempt to get the negative aspects of Internet across. Yet it may shoot above the heads of the average end user, thus failing to reach the intended audience and probably also won't effectively work as an eye-opener.

An interesting approach is to revolve the story line around the so-called content moderators, to consistently return to one of them to delineate the respective sections of the documentary. Their jobs are not easy, for example 3% of their decisions are checked by their supervisor, and they can make only a few mistakes per month. On the other hand, they are paid very well relatively in terms of the usual salaries in that part of the world.

A continuous stream of violence and other hefty photos or video's, all bordering on what is tolerable, will have ultimate effects on these moderators, something that is rightly touched by the movie. Their jobs will have nasty side effects on their minds. Despite the short exposure times per photo (20 seconds??), the sheer volume and the high percentage of disturbing images is bound to leave long lasting effects. I assume some sort of PTSS, despite the moderator not being physically involved in the situations at hand. As a form of self-defense, he may maintain the position that what he sees is happening far away and not affecting him dangerously in a physical sense. Conversely, it may broaden their horizon and make them aware of things not common in their own country. For example, one of the moderators told she developed an interest in sex toys as a side effect of her job, being something completely new to her before.

There were a few relatively short scenes wherein general counsels of the most-involved companies (Google, Facebook and Twitter) were questioned in the US House/Senate. What we got to see seemed devoid of any real content, possibly merely added to demonstrate that these companies are closely watched by politicians. The trivial questions we saw put to them and their prepared responses, did not contribute to my feeling that they are really scrutinized by politicians. (Side note: In April 2018 Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg made an appearance in the US House/Senate, in the aftermath of the Cambridge Analytica revelations. His questioning left a similar impression of triviality.). We cannot blame the politicians, as their inability is inevitable due to a lack of understanding how Internet works. However, in a way it was still relevant to add these sessions, if only to let the companies quote some numbers about people involved in the "cleaning" process. One of them mentioned even 10,000 employees, leaving unclear whether this also included contractors outside the US, like the ones in Manilla who were the main topic of this documentary.

The documentary provided also for some insight in the mistakes these moderators can make, for example because of little knowledge of (slang) vocabulary, missing cultural context, different norms in other parts of the world, and so on. Best example is the iconic picture that had an important influential role in showing the US people the truth about the Vietnam war, but it contained a frontal nude minor, hence had to be removed according to the written rules. My personal fear is that the deletion process tends to err on the side of caution and thus become too careful, thereby removing important documents about e.g. political conflicts (some examples were mentioned, but this topic got too little attention). Also pointed out were contemporary trends that some countries put pressure on the "platforms" to remove content that is not friendly towards the acting government, thereby suppressing the opposition and disconnecting them from their audience. These platforms prove to be lenient, just to prevent being blocked altogether which would render their business (e.g. advertising) impossible, with a negative influence on their profit/loss figures and their stakeholder value.

Though one of the reviewers complained that a beheading was shown on screen that took too long and was too painful to watch, I did not see his/her issue (maybe that scene was deleted afterwards). What they showed instead was an already beheaded body with the severed head on top, thereby explaining some details about the way this victim was beheaded, given the marks on the skin (apparently a kitchen knife was used, which is far from painless).

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