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Behind the Screen: Content Moderation in the Shadows of Social Media

Date and Time: 
Tuesday, April 21, 2020. 05:00 PM - 07:00 PM
Meeting Location: 
Zoom
Workshop: 
Digital Aesthetics: Critical Approaches to Computational Culture 2019
Meeting Description: 

Faced with mounting pressures and repeated, very public crises, social media firms have taken a new tack since 2017: to respond to criticism of all kinds and from numerous quarters (regulators, civil society advocates, journalists, academics, and others) by acknowledging their long-obfuscated human gatekeeping workforce of commercial content moderators. Additionally, these acknowledgments have often come alongside announcements of plans for exponential increases to that workforce, which now represents a global network of laborers – in distinct geographic, cultural, political, economic, labor, and industrial circumstances – conservatively estimated in the several tens of thousands and likely many times that. Yet the phenomenon of content moderation in social media firms has been shrouded in mystery when acknowledged at all. In this talk, Sarah T. Roberts will discuss the fruits of her decade-long study of the commercial content moderation industry, and its concomitant people, practices, and politics. Based on interviews with workers from Silicon Valley to the Philippines, at boutique firms and at major social media companies, she will offer context, history, and analysis of this hidden industry, with particular attention to the emotional toll it takes on its workers. The talk will offer insights about potential futures for the commercial internet and a discussion of the future of globalized labor in the digital age.

Sarah T. Roberts is an assistant professor of information studies at the UCLA School of Education and Information Studies, specializing in Internet culture, social media, and the intersection of media, technology, and society. She is founding co-director, along with Dr. Safiya Noble, of the forthcoming UCLA Center for Critical Internet Inquiry. Roberts researches information work and workers, and is a leading global authority on “commercial content moderation,” the term she coined to describe the work of those responsible for making sure media content posted to commercial websites fits within legal, ethical, and sites' own guidelines and standards.

Please contact Jeff Nagy at jsnagy@stanford for the Zoom link, by April 20th.

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