Sarah Roberts is an assistant professor at the Faculty of Information Studies (FIMS), Western University. Her current research focuses on the practice of commercial content moderation (CCM), a form of digital labor behind the scenes of the social media industry, “knowledge work” and the reconfigurations of labor and production in a Post-Industrial, globalized context. She is further interested in dissections of notions of information in society, and its attendant sociocultural, economic and ethical implications, as well as the political economy of digital information, the Internet, ICT and popular media.
The Hidden Essential Work of CCMs in the Digital Media Production Chain
The world of contemporary digital social media platforms is one that is predicated on the participation and production of its users, who provide platforms with the very material, known as user-generated content (UGC), that serves to draw users in. Behind the scenes of this massive UGC production are legions of unsung workers who are called upon to view and screen UGC and make decisions about its appropriateness – in many cases, removing it - day in and day out. The work tasks of these commercial content moderators vacillate from the mundane to exposure to violent, disturbing and shocking material, as they toil for major social media platforms and transnational brands. Although they work in a variety of environments, the workers are often comparatively low-status, low-wage precarious workers, despite performing a key business task that, at its worst, can do them psychological damage.
This research reveals the presence and importance of commercial content moderation to the digital social media ecology. Via semi-structured qualitative interviews with workers engaged in content moderation, this research unveils the practice of CCM in the context of contemporary trends of globalization, outsourcing and other economic and geospatial reconfigurations facilitated by the increasingly networked nature of the world. It further connects commercial content moderation with digital media economics, digital media practices and their sociopolitical, economic and ethical implications. It reports on and describes the experiences of content moderators in a number of different contexts and situations, working around the globe. It maps content moderation on theoretical grounds to other scholarship on digital work, aligning it in the greater context of the ecology of social media to the end of recognizing, acknowledging and improving the conditions under which the workers labor.