News & Opinion | December 15, 2017 12:03 pm

The Secret Lives of Internet Moderators

They are the hidden laborers of the online world.

UK porn block
The U.K. porn block goes into effect on July 15
(Getty Images)

Content moderation was once a volunteer activity, but as social media grew, so did content moderation and now people review posts, pictures, videos, text, very quickly and at scale. University of California, Los Angeles, scholar Sarah T. Roberts has been studying the labor of content moderation for almost a decade. She said there are very few full-time people, but instead, most moderators are contractors who are structurally removed from the firms themselves. It is brutal and necessary work, but the people doing it are lucky to make minimum wage, have no worker protections, and have to work at breakneck speeds in order to make enough to survive. Meanwhile, they are constantly reviewing violent, sexual, and disturbing content for a living, which takes a psychological toll. One worker said that when they left Myspace, she was “disgusted by humanity” and didn’t shake hands for three years “because I figured out that people were disgusting. And I just could not touch people.”