Behind the Screen

Content Moderation in the Shadows of Social Media

Sarah T. Roberts

View Inside Price: $30.00

June 25, 2019
280 pages, 5 1/2 x 8 1/4
9 b/w illus.
ISBN: 9780300235883

An eye-opening look at the invisible workers who protect us from seeing the worst of humanity on today’s commercial internet

Social media on the internet can be a nightmarish place. A primary shield against hateful language, violent videos, and online cruelty uploaded by users is not an algorithm. It is people. Mostly invisible by design, over 100,000 commercial content moderators evaluate posts on mainstream social media platforms: enforcing internal policies, training artificial intelligence systems, and actively screening and removing offensive material—sometimes thousands of items per day.
Sarah T. Roberts, an award-winning social media scholar, offers the first extensive ethnographic study of the commercial content moderation industry. Based on interviews with workers from Silicon Valley to the Philippines, at boutique firms and at major social media companies, she contextualizes this hidden industry and examines the emotional toll it takes on its workers. This revealing investigation of the people “behind the screen” offers insights into not only the reality of our commercial internet but the future of globalized labor in the digital age.

Sarah T. Roberts is assistant professor of information studies in the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles. She is a 2018 Carnegie Fellow and a 2018 winner of the EFF Pioneer Award.

“This book will define our thinking about the modern internet. Roberts has dispelled the myth of freely flowing content in social media and brought critical attention to the work of digital laborers.”—Safiya Umoja Noble, author of Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism