BEHIND THE SCREEN
ABOUT THE BOOK
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, more than 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
Sarah T. Roberts is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Information Studies, Graduate School of Education & Information Studies, at UCLA. She holds a Ph.D. from the iSchool at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Prior to joining UCLA in 2016, she was an Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Information and Media Studies at Western University in London, Ontario for three years. On the internet since 1993, she was previously an information technology professional for 15 years, and, as such, her research interests focus on information work and workers and on the social, economic and political impact of the widespread adoption of the internet in everyday life.
Since 2010, the main focus of her research has been to uncover the ecosystem - made up of people, practices and politics - of content moderation of major social media platforms, news media companies, and corporate brands.
She served as consultant to and is featured in the award-winning documentary The Cleaners, which debuted at Sundance 2018 and aired on PBS in the United States in November 2018.
Roberts is frequently consulted by the press and others on issues related to commercial content moderation and to social media, society and culture, in general. She has been interviewed on these topics in print, on radio and on television worldwide including: The New York Times, Associated Press, NPR, Le Monde, The Atlantic, The Economist, BBC Nightly News, the CBC, The Los Angeles Times, Rolling Stone, Wired, The Washington Post, Australian Broadcasting Corporation SPIEGEL Online, and CNN, among many others.
“This book will define our thinking about the modern internet. Roberts has deftly dispelled the myth of freely flowing content in social media and brought critical attention to the work of digital laborers. Whatever you thought about how the internet works, prepare to rethink it all. A must read for anyone who uses and trusts the objectivity of the internet.”
Safiya Umoja Noble
Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism